Judges Deferring to High Court Same-Sex Ruling in State Cases

Image: Judges Deferring to High Court Same-Sex Ruling in State Cases

Monday, 05 Aug 2013 09:22 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Lower-court judges are citing the U.S. Supreme Court's Defense of Marriage Act ruling —  striking down the federal definition of traditional marriage — in a number of state-level challenges to bans on same-sex marriage.

The Supreme Court decision has so far been used only in early stages of challenges to state bans, so no laws are yet in danger of being overturned, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

But a federal judge in Ohio has said a 2004 state ban on recognizing same-sex marriages "likely" is unconstitutional, and in Michigan, the top court's ruling was used to temporarily stop a state denial of domestic benefits for same-sex and other unmarried couples.

"It's a pattern that's emerging — and it's striking," University of Southern California law professor David Cruz, a civil-rights law expert, told the Journal. Instead of working around the Supreme Court ruling, Cruz said, judges are "embracing" it.

Gay marriage is becoming legal in more states since the Supreme Court's June 26 ruling. It became legal Aug. 1 in Minnesota and Rhode Island, and states such as New Jersey, Oregon, Illinois, and Hawaii are considering legalization as record numbers of people say they're now in favor of allowing gay couples to be legally wed.

But the Supreme Court's ruling in the U.S. vs. Windsor case is expected to have an even larger impact in upcoming months, legal experts believe. There already have been nine challenges to same-sex bans since the case was decided, and more are expected.

The Windsor case was filed after Edith Windsor, who married Thea Spyer in Canada in 2007, tried to use her spouse's U.S. estate-tax exemption for surviving spouses after Spyer died in 2009. However, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act kept the federal U.S. government from recognizing their same-sex marriage and the case eventually made it to the top court.

Many of the cases now being filed concern the benefits issue.

In the Ohio case, for example, two men married in Maryland and then returned home to Ohio. The two promptly sued. One of the men, John Arthur, is dying of Lou Gehrig's Disease, and his partner, James Obergefell, wants Ohio to recognize their marriage, making him the legal surviving spouse when Arthur dies.

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