Arizona same-sex marriage ban falls (UPDATED)
on Oct 17, 2014 at 1:10 pm
UPDATED 1:43 p.m. Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne issued a public statement Friday morning saying that the state would not appeal the decisions against the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. He said there was “zero” chance the Supreme Court would review the Ninth Circuit decision that led to the nullification of Arizona’s ban. In a letter to county clerks across the state, he said that they could begin issuing marriage licenses immediately to gay and lesbian couples. These developments make Arizona the thirtieth state in which such marriages are now fully permitted. This will also allow recognition of gay and lesbian marriages performed in other states for Arizonans. (Meanwhile, at this hour, there is no word from the Supreme Court on the legal situation in Alaska.)
A senior federal judge in Phoenix on Friday struck down Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage in two separate rulings, and refused to delay the effect of the decisions. He also predicted that the Supreme Court would “turn a deaf ear” to a request to postpone such marriages in the state. His nearly identical, four-page rulings are here and here.
Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Friday morning that the federal government would recognize the legality of same-sex marriages in seven states — all covered by Supreme Court denials of review of three decisions by federal appeals court. As a result, Holder said, newly married couples or already married couples whose unions are now official will be entitled to all federal marital benefits.
In Arizona, Senior District Judge John W. Sedwick, who normally sits in Anchorage, Alaska, but is visiting in Arizona to perform duties there, had two cases before him. He noted that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, whose geographic reach includes Arizona, had recently struck down “nearly identical” laws in Idaho and Nevada. “This court is bound by” decisions by that appeals court, he said.
When the two cases were filed, he said, the status of the law in that judicial circuit “was not clear,” and so he faced the prospect of writing “a lengthy decision.” But with the Ninth Circuit’s ruling since then, he issued two brief rulings, issuing an order that Arizona officials must obey immediately. A delay, he said, “is not warranted,” and the Supreme Court probably would not intervene to require a postponement.
The Supreme Court is considering today a request by state officials in Alaska to delay a federal judge’s ruling against that state’s ban. Alaska is also in the Ninth Circuit’s region. As of midday Friday, the Justices had not acted on that case.
Attorney General Holder’s announcement of federal extension of benefits to same-sex couples in seven states followed the practice the Obama administration had instituted when lower courts began nullifying state bans on such unions. The seven states covered by his announcement include the five where rulings against such bans were left in effect by the Supreme Court on October 6 — Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin — plus two others where bans have been more recently struck down, Colorado and Nevada.