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Tenth Circuit Rules in Favor of Same-Sex Marriage

On Behalf of | Jun 25, 2014 | Family Law, LGBTQ Legal Issues |

Today, the Tenth Circuit issued its ruling on Utah’s same-sex marriage ban, finding that the right to marry the person one chooses, regardless of the gender of that person, is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Below are some key excerpts from today’s opinion:

The drafters of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments “knew times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.” … A generation ago, recognition of the fundamental right to marry as applying to persons of the same sex might have been unimaginable. A generation ago, the declaration by gay and lesbian couples of what may have been in their hearts would have had to remain unspoken. Not until contemporary times have laws stigmatizing or even criminalizing gay men and women been felled, allowing their relationships to surface to an open society. As the district court eloquently explained, “it is not the Constitution that has changed, but the knowledge of what it means to be gay or lesbian.” … Consistent with our constitutional tradition of recognizing the liberty of those previously excluded, we conclude that plaintiffs possess a fundamental right to marry and to have their marriages recognized.”

[T]he judiciary is not empowered to pick and choose the timing of its decisions. “It is a judge’s duty to decide all cases within his jurisdiction that are brought before him, including controversial cases that arouse the most intense feelings in the litigants.” … Plaintiffs in this case have convinced us that Amendment 3 violates their fundamental right to marry and to have their marriages recognized. We may not deny them relief based on a mere preference that their arguments be settled elsewhere. Nor may we defer to majority will in dealing with matters so central to personal autonomy. The protection and exercise of fundamental rights are not matters for opinion polls or the ballot box. “One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”

In summary, we hold that under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution, those who wish to marry a person of the same sex are entitled to exercise the same fundamental right as is recognized for persons who wish to marry a person of the opposite sex, and that [Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage] and similar statutory enactments do not withstand constitutional scrutiny.

Though there have been at least twenty rulings from various lower courts since the Supreme Court issued its decision in Windsor last year, this is the first time since that ruling that an appellate court has addressed the constitutionality of a state’s ban against same-sex marriage.  The Fourth Circuit is also expected to rule soon.

To read the Tenth Circuit’s opinion in its entirety, go here.