Tuesday, July 22, 2014

10th Circuit Wades Through Procedural Morass In Invalidating Part of Oklahoma's Same-Sex Marriage Provisions

The 10th Circuit last week, in a case generating 84 pages of opinions that focus extensively on procedural issues, struck down Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage, but dismissed for lack of standing the state's refusal to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.  The unusual posture of the case stemmed from the fact that the 10th Circuit had already struck down as violative of the 14th Amendment Utah's bans on same-sex sex marriage and Utah's ban on recognizing such marriages performed in other jurisdictions (see prior posting). So in Bishop v. Smith, (10th Cir., July 18, 2014), the question was whether anything distinguished the challenge to Oklahoma's laws from the already decided challenge to Utah's.

In a portion of the opinion that all 3 judges agreed to, the court held that the couple challenging Oklahoma's non-recognition provisions lacked standing because the only defendant in the case, the Clerk of Court for Tulsa County, has nothing to do with recognizing or not recognizing a marriage performed elsewhere. The majority, however, held that Oklahoma's ban on granting licences for same-sex marriages performed in the state is unconstitutional, as was Utah's similar ban. The majority's conclusion was not undermined by the fact that plaintiffs had challenged only Oklahoma's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, and not the parallel statutory ban as well. The majority stayed their mandate pending disposition of any petition for certiorari that is filed with the Supreme Court.

Judge Holmes wrote a 27 page concurring opinion explaining why the district court had been correct in not relying on the "animus" theory in striking down Oklahoma's ban on marriage equality. Judge Kelley dissented in part, arguing that the couple challenging the ban on in-state same-sex marriages also lacked standing because they challenged only the state constitutional ban and not the parallel statutory prohibition.  Judge Kelley also disagreed on the merits, contending that "Same-gender marriage is a public policy choice for the states, and should not be
driven by a uniform, judge-made fundamental rights analysis." Scotus Blog reports on the decision.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court last week issued an order (full text) in Herbert v. Evans, staying pending appeal to the 10th Circuit the district court's preliminary injunction requiring Utah to recognize same-sex marriages performed during the gap period before a district court's order was stayed. (See prior posting.) Here is the petition to Justice Sotomayor requesting the stay.