Court to fast track Nevada gay marriage suit

A federal appeals court Wednesday granted Nevada’s motion to withdraw its support for a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage and agreed to expedite the case.

In a three-page order, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the motion filed Monday by Attorney General Catherine Corte Masto to withdraw an earlier brief defending Nevada’s constitutional prohibition on gay marriage.

Masto, a Democrat, and Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval agreed that a recent appeals court ruling extending civil rights protections to gays and lesbians made Nevada’s defense of the law no longer tenable.

That ruling in January was issued the same day Nevada filed its initial brief urging the court to uphold the law approved by voters in 2002 that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

Eight same-sex couples, some married for decades, sued the state, arguing that the law is unconstitutional. A federal judge in Reno upheld the law in 2012, and the couples appealed to the 9th Circuit in San Francisco.

The appellate court in its ruling said the case will be considered as soon as possible.

Tara Borelli, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal, a gay rights advocacy group that is representing the Nevada couples, said the court’s agreement to expedite the case means oral arguments could be held as early as this spring.

“The wheels of justice are now on a much faster track,” Borelli said.

Seventeen states allow gay marriage, and in recent months federal courts have struck down laws in various states that ban or restrict recognition of same-sex marriages.

On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II struck down part of the gay-marriage ban that Kentuckians had approved in 2004, saying it treated gays and lesbians “in a way that demeans them.”

His ruling came the same day a federal judge in Texas heard arguments on challenges to that state’s gay marriage prohibition and lawsuits similar to the Kentucky case were filed in Missouri and Louisiana.

Federal judges in Utah and Oklahoma in recent weeks also struck down voter-approved bans in those states. State officials are appealing those rulings to the 10th U.S. District Court of Appeals in Denver, which will hear oral arguments in those cases in April.

Nevada’s decision not to defend the law leaves the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage as the lone defendant to argue in favor of keeping it.

The coalition organized an initiative petition and gathered signatures needed to qualify the measure for the Nevada ballot.


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