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Monday, January 12, 2015

Marriage News Watch, 1/12/15

Matt Baume of the American Foundation for Equal Rights reports:

Also, good news from South Dakota, as Freedom to Marry reports:
Today, January 12, United States District Court Judge Karen E. Schreier ruled in favor of the freedom to marry in South Dakota, declaring the state's ban on marriage between same-sex couples unconstitutional.

The ruling was in the case Rosenbrahn v. Daugaard, which was filed in May of 2014 by private lawyers with National Center for Lesbian Rights as co-counsel on behalf of six South Dakota couples who are either unmarried or who have been legally married in another state. The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of a discriminatory state constitutional amendment in South Dakota that only respects marriages between one man and one woman, stating that it violates the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantees to equal protection.

Judge Schreier wrote today:
In Loving, the Supreme Court addressed a traditionally accepted definition of marriage that prohibited Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving from marrying. Because Virginia’s laws deprived that couple of their fundamental right to marriage, the Court struck down those laws. Little distinguishes this case from Loving. Plaintiffs have a fundamental right to marry. South Dakota law deprives them of that right solely because they are same-sex couples and without sufficient justification. Accordingly, it is ORDERED that plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment (Docket 20) is granted, and defendants’ motion for summary judgment (Docket 43) is denied.
Full text of the ruling here.

Further comment from SCOTUSblog:
Judge Schreier put her decision on hold, to keep things unchanged in South Dakota during an appeal to the Eighth Circuit. That court also has pending before it cases in which judges in Arkansas and Missouri have struck down prohibitions on same-sex marriages. Lawsuits are pending in Nebraska and North Dakota. Iowa and Minnesota already permit same-sex marriages. . . .

The Eighth Circuit is being followed closely by advocates on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue, because that court ruled against same-sex marriage in 2006, in a Nebraska case. Judge Schreier, in a preliminary ruling in mid-November, ruled that the decision in that case does not control new cases because it did not involve a direct test of the constitutionality of a same-sex marriage ban.

Although most of Judge Schreier’s reasons for nullifying the South Dakota ban on Monday were familiar from other decisions, she was among the first to reject what has been a more recent claim by state officials: that is, that marriage is a domestic relations matter, and that federal courts have no jurisdiction over such matters. There is such an exception, the Sioux Falls judge found, but that it does not go so far as to bar new constitutional claims against same-sex marriage bans.

If Judge Schreier’s decision is upheld by the Eighth Circuit, and if that appeals court were also to uphold the similar decisions in the pending Arkansas and Missouri cases, that would bring the number of states where same-sex marriages are legal to thirty-nine. Washington, D.C., also permits such unions.

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