Judge Strikes Down Arizona's Ban on Gay Marriage

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A federal judge has cleared the way for legally recognized gay marriages in Arizona by ruling that the state's ban on same-sex unions is unconstitutional.

The ruling Friday by U.S. District Judge John Sedwick bars state officials from enforcing a 1996 state law and a 2008 voter-approved constitutional amendment that outlawed gay marriage.

Sedwick said in his ruling that because the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had already ruled against gay marriage bans in Nevada and Idaho, he did not need to give a lengthy reason for his ruling and was bound by the appeals' court decision.

"A stay of this decision to allow defendants to appeal is not warranted. It is clear that an appeal to the 9th Circuit would not succeed. It is also clear ... that the High Court will turn a deaf ear on any request for relief from the 9th Circuit's decision," Sedwick said.

Sedwick, who was nominated to the federal bench in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush, ordered the state to "permanently cease" its ban on gay marriage and declined to stay his order.

The Arizona decision came after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Oct. 7 that gay marriage prohibitions in Nevada and Idaho violated the equal-protection rights of same-sex couples.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from several states seeking to retain their bans on same-sex marriage. The move effectively legalized gay marriage in about 30 states and triggered a flurry of rulings and confusion in lower courts across the nation.

Sedwick's ruling came in one of two lawsuits that challenged Arizona's gay marriage ban. In that case, seven couples who live in Arizona challenged the law, including some who married in other states but were unable to have their union legally recognized in Arizona.

Lawyers who pushed both lawsuits argued the state law violated equal-protection and due-process rights and wrongfully denied their clients the benefits of marriage, such as spousal pension benefits, spousal survivorship rights and the ability to make medical decisions for each other.

Attorneys representing the state urged Sedwick to uphold the state's definition of a marriage as a union between a man and woman. They argued the ban furthers the state's interest in connecting a child to his or her biological mother and father and that voters and lawmakers enacted the ban to protect their right to define marriage for their community.

Arizona lawmakers approved a state law barring same-sex marriages in 1996. Seven years later, an Arizona appeals court upheld the constitutionality of the law. Voters in 2008 amended the Arizona Constitution to include a ban.

Challenges to gay marriage bans

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Challenges to gay marriage bans - state by state - 2014 - same-sex marriage
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Judge Strikes Down Arizona's Ban on Gay Marriage
ARKANSAS: A state judge in May struck down the state's ban. The state Supreme Court brought marriages to a halt and is weighing state officials' appeal. Same-sex couples are also suing the state in federal court. The attorney general's office has asked that proceedings in both cases be put on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether to take up a case from Utah.
COLORADO: Several county clerks began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in June despite the ban. A state judge struck down the ban July 9 but put the ruling on hold while the state appeals. On July 23, a federal judge also overturned the ban but issued a stay; a federal appeals court later extended the stay. The state Supreme Court on July 29 ordered all clerks to stop issuing licenses to same-sex couples. Republican Attorney General John Suthers says that he knows it's only a matter of time until gay marriage is legal but that he'll continue to defend the law.
FLORIDA: A federal judge declared the state's ban unconstitutional in mid-August, joining state judges in four counties. He issued a stay delaying the effect of his order, meaning no marriage licenses will be immediately issued for gay couples.
HAWAII: Same-sex couples sued in 2011 to overturn the state's ban. A federal court later upheld the ban, but then Legislature last year legalized gay marriage. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments in San Francisco on Sept. 8, the same day it will consider cases from Idaho and Nevada.
IDAHO: State officials are appealing a federal judge's decision to overturn the state's ban. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is scheduled to hear arguments Sept. 8, the same day it will consider appeals from Hawaii and Nevada.
INDIANA: A federal judge struck down the state's ban in June, and hundreds of couples wed before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago granted a stay of the ruling. The appeals court heard argument from both sides on Aug. 26, though no decision was immediately made.
KENTUCKY: Two Kentucky cases were among six from four states heard in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on Aug. 6. Rulings are pending on recognition of out-of-state marriages, as well as the ban on marriages within the state.
MICHIGAN: The state's ban was overturned by a federal judge in March following a rare trial that mostly focused on the impact on children. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati heard arguments Aug. 6, and a ruling is pending.
NEVADA: Eight couples are challenging Nevada's voter-approved 2002 ban, which a federal judge upheld a decade later. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has scheduled arguments for Sept. 8, the same day the court will consider appeals from Hawaii and Idaho.
OHIO: Two Ohio cases were argued Aug. 6 in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and a ruling is pending. In one, two gay men whose spouses were dying sued to have their out-of-state marriages recognized on their spouses' death certificates. In the other, four couples sued to have both spouses listed on their children's birth certificates.
OKLAHOMA: An appeals court tossed the state's ban in July but put its ruling on hold on hold pending an appeal, meaning same-sex couples can't marry in Oklahoma for now. Attorneys representing the Tulsa County court clerk -- who refused to issue a marriage license for a lesbian couple there -- asked the Supreme Court this month to hear the case.
TENNESSEE: The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Aug. 6 on an appeal of a federal judge's order to recognize three same-sex couples' marriages while their lawsuit against the state works through the courts. A ruling is pending.
UTAH: The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled this summer that Utah must allow gay couples to marry, though it put the ruling on hold pending an appeal. The state has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the state's ban.
VIRGINIA: The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled in July that the state's voter-approved ban is unconstitutional. The state has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which hasn't said whether it will accept the case. But the high court granted a request on Aug. 20 from a county clerk to delay implementation of the ruling, which would have allowed same-sex couples to marry beginning the next day.
WISCONSIN: A federal judge struck down the state's ban in June, leading to more than 500 same-sex weddings before the judge put her ruling on hold. The state appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, which heard arguments from both sides on Aug. 26 but made no immediate ruling.
ELSEWHERE: Other states with court cases demanding recognition of gay marriage are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming. Most lawsuits challenge same-sex marriage bans or ask states to recognize gay marriages done in other states.
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