Mississippi, Arkansas same-sex marriage bans fall (UPDATED)
on Nov 26, 2014 at 12:11 am
UPDATED Wednesday 12:11 a.m. The wave of federal court rulings against state bans on same-sex marriage swept into the Deep South on Tuesday, as a federal judge in Mississippi struck down that state’s prohibition. In a fervent defense of the role of the courts in protecting individual rights against majority voter sentiment, and a lengthy critique of Mississippi’s history against gay rights, U.S. District Judge Carlton Wayne Reeves of Jackson found the ban to be a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equality. He put his ruling on hold for two weeks to allow the state to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, where conflicting rulings from Louisiana (upholding a ban) and Texas (nullifying a ban) are already pending. (The post below discusses a ruling in Arkansas earlier in the day.)
Refusing to postpone acting until state courts rule on the issue, a federal judge in Little Rock on Tuesday struck down the Arkansas ban on same-sex marriage. This was the second ruling against such a ban in a state within the geographic region of the federal Eighth Circuit, setting up another test case for the federal appeals court in that region — an area for which there is no recent appeals court ruling on the controversy.
U.S. District Judge Kristine G. Baker found that the state ban violated the right of two lesbian couples to join equally in the fundamental constitutional right to marry. One of the couples was married in Iowa and seeks to have that marriage officially recognized in Arkansas; the other couple seeks to marry A state judge in Arkansas has also struck down the state ban, and the Arkansas Supreme Court held a hearing last Thursday on the state’s appeal in that case.
A federal judge in Missouri has ruled that the ban in that state is unconstitutional, but Missouri has not yet appealed that ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. That judge has temporarily blocked his ruling pending a state appeal; if there is no appeal, his ruling will go into effect on December 8.
Both the judges, in the Arkansas and Missouri cases, rejected arguments by state officials that the Eighth Circuit had settled the same-sex marriage issue in a ruling in a Nebraska case in 2006. The judges in the new district court rulings found that the precedent was not controlling, because the 2006 decision was based on other legal grounds and also hasd been overtaken by more recent constitutional developments.
Judge Baker put her decision on hold to allow Arkansas officials to pursue an appeal.
There also are same-sex marriage cases pending in the other states within the Eighth Circuit — North and South Dakota and Nebraska.
The other federal appeals courts in which state bans are being tested — so far without a ruling — are those in the First, Fifth, and Eleventh Circuits.