SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld gay marriage in Idaho and Nevada, saying bans on the practice in those states violate same-sex couples’ equal protection rights.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said in its ruling that laws that treat people differently based on sexual orientation are unconstitutional unless there is a compelling government interest.
Neither Idaho nor Nevada offered any legitimate reasons to discriminate against same-sex couples, Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel.
“Idaho and Nevada’s marriage laws, by preventing same-sex couples from marrying and refusing to recognize same-sex marriages celebrated elsewhere, impose profound legal, financial, social and psychic harms on numerous citizens of those states,” Reinhardt wrote.
He rejected the argument that same-sex marriages will devalue traditional marriage, leading to more out-of-wedlock births.
“This proposition reflects a crass and callous view of parental love and the parental bond that is not worthy of response,” Reinhardt wrote. “We reject it out of hand.”
State and federal court judges have been striking down bans at a rapid rate since a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year. The 9th Circuit ruling comes a day after the nation’s top court effectively legalized gay marriage in 11 more states, for a total of 30, when it rejected a set of appeals.
The appeals court panel did not rule on a similar case in Hawaii, which legalized gay marriage in December. Hawaii’s governor had asked the court to toss out a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban and an appeal to the 9th Circuit filed before Hawaii lawmakers legalized same-sex marriages.
During oral arguments in September, the debate in the appeals court over Idaho and Nevada bans focused on harm to children.
Lawyers seeking to invalidate the bans argued children of gay couples are stigmatized when their parents are prevented from marrying. Attorneys supporting the bans said gay marriages devalue traditional marriages, which will lead to fewer weddings and more single-parent homes.
Reinhardt wrote that if Idaho and Nevada wanted to increase the number of children raised by married, biological parents, “they would do well to rescind the right to no-fault divorce, or to divorce altogether,” noting that neither state has done so.
He added that if biological parents were truly a priority of the state, “they might do better to ban assisted reproduction using donor sperm or eggs, gestational surrogacy, and adoption,” but again noted that “neither state does.”
The 9th Circuit also has jurisdiction in three other states that still have marriage bans in place: Alaska, Arizona and Montana. Lawsuits challenging bans in those states are still pending in lower courts and have not reached the appeals court.
On Monday, the Supreme Court unexpectedly rejected appeals from five states seeking to preserve their bans. The decision cleared the way for a dramatic expansion of gay marriage in the United States and might have signaled that it’s only a matter of time before same-sex couples can marry in all 50 states.
Though the high court last year declared unconstitutional a federal law limiting marriage to a man and woman for determining benefits, the justices didn’t address whether states could ban gay marriage.
Developing story. This report will be updated.