Last year at this time, the United States Supreme Court had just finished hearing oral arguments in two LGBT cases that resulted in landmark marriage equality rulings striking down Section 3 of DOMA and Proposition 8. Although LGBT rights are not before the high court in 2014, this year promises to be a barnburner of a year for marriage equality litigation in lower courts with a dizzying sixty cases pending in thirty states or territories of the United States. Consider what’s ahead in just the next six weeks:
On April 10, all eyes will be on the Tenth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals when they hear oral argument in the Utah marriage equality case, Kitchen v. Herbert. In December 2013, the federal district court in Salt Lake City struck down Utah’s exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage, and hundreds of LGBT couples married in Salt Lake City and other parts of the state before the decision was stayed pending appeal.
A week later, on April 17, the Tenth Circuit will also hear arguments in the Oklahoma freedom to marry case, Bishop v. Smith, where the district court in Tulsa invalidated that state’s ban of marriage for LGBT couples. On the same day, a state court in Little Rock will hear arguments in same-sex couples’ lawsuit seeking marriage equality in Arkansas, Wright v. Arkansas.
Less than a week after that, on April 23, the federal district court in Eugene, Oregon, will hear arguments in LGBT couples’ challenge to Oregon’s denial of marriage for same-sex couples. The Governor and Attorney General of Oregon have stated in court filings that they consider Oregon’s marriage ban unconstitutional and are ready to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if the court strikes down the ban. In addition, the LGBT community and allies in Oregon have collected sufficient signatures to qualify an initiative to reverse the ban on the November 2014 ballot. The community has until July 3 to decide whether or not to pursue the measure, and if the district court strikes down the ban and marriage equality becomes the law in Oregon, the community will likely not submit the initiative for the ballot.
And three weeks after that, the action moves east to Virginia where, on May 13, the Fourth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals will hear arguments in Bostic v. Shaefer, a challenge to Virginia’s exclusion of LGBT couples from marriage. In February 2014, a federal district court in Norfolk ruled the state’s marriage ban unconstitutional. Same-sex couples in a separate class action challenge to Virginia’s ban, Harris v. Rainey, will also appear in the appeal. Virginia’s Governor and Attorney General are not defending the ban, but other state officials are pursuing the appeal.
Decisions in the district and trial courts could come immediately, or shortly after the hearings. Decisions in the federal appellate courts (the Fourth and Tenth Circuits) will likely come within months of the oral arguments. The case for LGBT equality has never been stronger. Stay tuned.
By MEUSA National Media Director Stuart Gaffney and MEUSA Director of Legal & Policy John Lewis
This article originally appeared in SF Bay Times, April 2, 2014: http://sfbaytimes.com/a-whirlwind-six-weeks-ahead-for-marriage-equality/