Thirty-two states that either allow same-sex marriage or have banned it asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to settle the issue once and for all.
Fifteen states that allow same-sex marriage, led by Massachusetts, filed a brief asking the justices to take up three cases from Virginia, Utah and Oklahoma and overturn bans. And 17 other states, led by Colorado, that have banned the practice asked the court to hear cases from Utah and Oklahoma to clear up a “morass” of lawsuits, but didn’t urge the court to rule one way or another.
The unanimous decision Thursday criticized the justifications both states gave, several times singling out the argument that marriage between a man and a woman is tradition. There are, the court noted, good and bad traditions.
The experience of Massachusetts — the first state to legalize same-sex marriage — shows that allowing same-sex couples to wed has only benefited families and strengthened the institution of marriage, said Attorney General Martha Coakley.
“Laws that bar same-sex couples from marrying are discriminatory and unconstitutional,” she said. “The time has come for this critical issue to be resolved.”
Colorado’s brief argued that the definition of marriage faces legal challenges only the Supreme Court can resolve, and that without a Supreme Court decision, states defending bans could be liable for huge legal bills from future lawsuits if they are overturned.
It was written by Daniel D. Domenico, the state’s solicitor general, and Michael Lee Francisco, assistant solicitor general.
Colorado was joined by Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
These are the cases addressed in the briefs:
- In Virginia, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals 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.
- In Oklahoma, an appeals court tossed the state’s ban in July but put its ruling 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.
- In 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.