A federal appeals court on Tuesday stuck down gay marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada, becoming the latest court to rule that such prohibitions violate the Constitution.
The decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that same-sex marriage bans in those states violate gay couples' rights to equal protection under the law. The ruling also effectively applies to three other states — Alaska, Arizona, and Montana — that ban same-sex marriage but fall under the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit, bringing the total number of states where gays can or will soon be able to marry to 35.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck a victory for gay marriage when it declined to take up the issue, clearing the way for gay couples to marry in 11 states. The order also signaled that the high court is unwilling to weigh in on gay marriage when so many federal courts are overturning bans on their own, according to John Pagan, professor of constitutional law at the University of Richmond.
“It’s over in the 9th circuit,” Pagan told NBC News. “If anybody can’t see the handwriting on the wall, that person has no business in law. It’s clear in which direction the country is moving.”
Gay-rights advocates hailed Tuesday’s decision. “This is another great legal moment this week for loving and committed couples. Today’s decision reflects the reality that the majority of Americans agree that it is time for same-sex couples to have the right to marry and protect their families," James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project, said in a statement.
Lawyers representing Idaho and Nevada argued that the laws were put in place to promote heterosexual marriage because those families are better environments in which to raise children. The three-judge panel ruled that even if that were the motivation behind the laws, “it cannot overcome the inescapable conclusion that Idaho and Nevada do discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.”
“The lessons of our constitutional history are clear: inclusion strengthens, rather than weakens, our most important institutions,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote in the court’s opinion. “When we integrated our schools, education improved. When we opened our juries to women, democracy became more vital. When we allowed lesbian and gay soldiers to serve openly, it enhanced unit cohesion. When same-sex couples are married, just as when opposite-sex couples are married, they serve as models of loving commitment to us all.”
The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure typically provide the seven-day waiting period to give the losing side of a court battle a chance to appeal. But the justices lifted the waiting period for Idaho, and officials in the Clark County clerk's office say the marriage license bureau in Las Vegas will begin accepting license applications at 2 p.m. Wednesday from same-sex couples.
Sue Latta and Traci Ehlers sued Idaho last year to compel Idaho to recognize their 2008 marriage in California. "This is a super sweet victory," Latta told The Associated Press. "Taxes are easier, real estate is easier, parenting is easier, end of life planning is easier. We no longer have to hire an attorney. We have a valid marriage license."
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.