Category Archives: Same-Sex Marriage

Ninth Circuit Lifts the Stay: Same-Sex Marriages Begin in California

After SCOTUS dismissed the Hollingsworth v. Perry Prop. 8 case on Wednesday, most legal experts concluded that it would take up to 30 days for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to lift the stay of the U.S. District Court’s order striking down Prop. 8 – but they were wrong. Today, just two days after the Supreme Court’s decision, the Ninth Circuit lifted the stay of the federal court order, immediately clearing the path for same-sex couples to marry in California.

Late this afternoon, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a one-sentence opinion that states: “The stay in the above matter is dissolved effective immediately.”

Governor Jerry Brown then ordered that “marriage licenses must be issued to same-sex couples immediately.”  He also took to his Twitter account to declare, “Same-sex marriage is now the law in California.”

Both of the plaintiff couples in the Perry case were married in public ceremonies this evening. Around 5:00 p.m., California State Attorney General Kamala Harris officiated the wedding of plaintiffs Sandra Stier and Kris Perry at San Francisco City Hall. About an hour and a half later, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa married the other plaintiffs, Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo.

San Francisco City Hall will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 29th and 30th to issue marriage licenses. The Los Angeles County registrar and the clerk’s office have promised to deputize additional marriage commissioners and extend days and locations to handle the expected rush of weddings. Same-sex marriages should resume across the rest of California beginning Monday, July 1, 2013.

For up-to-date information about same-sex marriage, domestic partnerships and civil unions, check out the LGBT Law center on Nolo.com.

The Wedding Bells Will Ring – Gay Marriage to Resume in California

picture of marriage equalitySCOTUS delivered another much-anticipated marriage equality ruling today when it dismissed the California Prop. 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, on a legal technicality. The court declined to determine the proposition’s constitutionality and instead ruled that Prop. 8 supporters (private citizens) lacked “standing” to appeal the lower court’s decision regarding the gay marriage ban.

A Little Background

In August 2010, United States District Court Judge Vaughn Walker (a federal judge) overturned Prop. 8 (the voter-approved ban on gay marriage) ruling that the ballot measure violated the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Judge Walker issued a statewide injunction against enforcement of Prop. 8, but also issued a stay (delay) of his own order pending appeal.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Walker’s decision and kept the stay in place pending the Supreme Court’s review.

What Did SCOTUS Really Decide: What is Legal Standing?

The Supreme Court dismissed the Perry case because, it ruled, the proponents of Prop. 8 did not have “legal standing” to appeal the Ninth Circuit order where state officials, including the governor, refused to defend the law. Lack of standing means that the Prop. 8 supporters could not show they suffered a sufficient harm from the lower court’s decision to support their participation in the case.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said that the Prop. 8 supporters had no “personal stake” in defending it, at least no more than other ordinary citizens of California. “It is not enough,” Roberts wrote, “that the party invoking the power of the court have a keen interest in the issue.” SCOTUS remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit.

What Happens Next: When Will Same-Sex Marriages Resume?

Although this decision has cleared the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California, they will not begin immediately. After the ruling, the Supreme Court clerk sent a letter to the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court saying that its formal judgment will not be issued for at least 25 days. It will then be up to the court of appeals to take care of a legal formality — lifting the stay of the injunction. Same-sex couples will not be able to marry until the Ninth Circuit confirms they’ve lifted the stay.

All of this could take a few weeks, but it looks like same-sex weddings could begin taking place in California as soon as July 2013.

In the meantime, California Governor Jerry Brown has directed all California county officials and court clerks to comply with Judge Walker’s injunction against the enforcement of Prop. 8 and issue marriage licenses as soon as the stay is lifted.

It’s been reported that Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (one of the earliest and most prominent political proponents of same-sex marriage in California) believes gay marriage will resume in California within 30 days. And California Attorney General Kamala Harris told reporters, “As soon as they lift that stay, marriages are on . . . .the wedding bells will ring.”

California is the 13th state to recognize same-sex marriage. (See also Marriage Equality Update:  Ten and Counting)  For up-to-date information about same-sex marriage, domestic partnerships and civil unions, check out the LGBT Law center on Nolo.com.

SCOTUS Has Spoken: DOMA’s Definition of Marriage is Unconstitutional

picture of marriage equalityToday’s historic SCOTUS ruling marks a monumental step in the marriage equality movement. The Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor puts an end to the federal definition of marriage under the Defense of Marriage Act or “DOMA,” which limited marriage to a union between a man and a woman. Now, same-sex couples that are legally married in any of the 13 states that recognize gay marriage (or D.C.) are considered “married” in the federal government’s eyes, and can enjoy the same federal benefits that opposite-sex married couples do, including immigration status, Social Security benefits and federal tax benefits.

The DOMA case involved Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, a lesbian couple that was married in Canada in 2007 – after being in a relationship for 40 years. When Spyer died in 2009, Windsor was forced to pay $363,053 in taxes on Spyer’s estate, which she would not have had to pay if she’d been Spyer’s husband. She argued that DOMA, which prevents her from being considered Spyer’s spouse for federal purposes, cost her $363,053.

In a 5-4 decision, with the majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, SCOTUS found that the section of DOMA defining marriage as between a man and a woman violates the Equal Protection Clause and is therefore unconstitutional.

There are still some questions left to be answered, including whether the feds will recognize same-sex marriages based on the “place of celebration” – where the couple was married, or based on the “place of residence” – where the couple resides. For example, how will the feds treat the union of a same-sex couple that married legally in Rhode Island (place of celebration) but then moved to Texas (place of residence), where same-sex marriage is not recognized?

There is no clear answer at the moment, but some legal analysts suggest that because the federal government currently uses the place of celebration standard (not taking into account where a couple later resides) for most federal benefits, they will likely continue to do so. However, that question is reserved for another day. Right now, millions of Americans across the nation, both gay and straight, are cheering the demise of DOMA – described best, I think, by President Obama as “Righting the wrong . . . of discrimination enshrined in law.”

Next up:  Gay Marriage to Resume in California.

To learn more about the DOMA decision and how it may impact your right to federal benefits, check out The Supreme Court’s DOMA Decision on Nolo.com. 

Marriage Equality Update: Ten and Counting

picture of marriage equalityRhode Island is the Tenth State to Legalize Gay Marriage

With the May 2, 2013 passage of its same-sex marriage bill, Rhode Island became the tenth U.S. state to recognize gay marriage. The new law takes effect in Rhode Island on August 1, 2013, when same-sex marriage ceremonies will begin taking place.

As of the writing of this post, gay marriage is legal in 10 U.S. states – Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington – plus the District of Columbia.

More States are Following Suit: Delaware will Become the 11th

With all major polls now showing that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, other states are quickly following suit. Just today, the Delaware Senate voted to legalize gay marriage. The bill now goes to Democratic Governor Jack Markell, who has already promised to sign it.

On May 9, the Minnesota state House will vote on a same-sex marriage bill: Minnesota House Speaker Paul Thissen says he believes the Democratic majority has enough votes to pass the bill. A vote in Illinois may follow later this month. The Illinois state Senate has already passed the marriage equality bill, as has a House committee. If it gets approval in the full House vote, the bill goes to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, who vowed to sign it.

And we’re very close to resolution on the landmark California Proposition 8 and DOMA cases, both of which were heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this past March.

What’s the Proposition 8 Case all About?

“Prop. 8” is the 2008 California ballot measure that effectively overturned the California Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. Prop. 8 amended the California Constitution to recognize only those marriages between a man and a woman.

In 2010, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker overturned Prop. 8, finding that it discriminated against same-sex couples in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and upheld Judge Walker’s decision, but Prop. 8 supporters appealed the ruling. On March 26, 2013, the Supreme Court, or SCOTUS, heard oral argument on the Prop. 8 case and took it under submission.

In a nutshell, the Supremes are reviewing a 9th Circuit decision that addressed the freedom to marry in California. SCOTUS may uphold (or overturn) the 9th Circuit’s decision as it applies to California, or rule more broadly and issue a decision that has far-reaching effects on same-sex marriage recognition across the country.

What are the Issues in the DOMA case?

The federal Defense of Marriage Act or “DOMA” was enacted by Congress in 1996 to nullify same-sex marriage for purposes of federal law. DOMA defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman, and prohibits all same-sex married couples from receiving federal benefits opposite-sex married couples receive, such as Social Security benefits, tax benefits and immigration status. SCOTUS heard oral argument regarding the challenge to DOMA on March 27, 2013 – the day after the Prop. 8 oral argument took place.

If the Supremes strike down DOMA’s definition of marriage, same-sex married couples will be entitled to the same federal benefits opposite-sex couples receive.

There’s no way to predict SCOTUS’s rulings, but stay tuned – decisions in both cases are expected as early as June 2013. However these cases play out, it’s clear that the marriage equality movement is gaining widespread support and legal validation across the country.