SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Gay marriage bans in Nevada, Idaho and Hawaii will come under scrutiny on Monday when a US appeals court wades back into a civil rights debate that has swept through courthouses across the country.
The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is scheduled to hear arguments on whether judges in Nevada and Hawaii were correct to uphold those states’ gay marriage bans. Hawaii’s legislature subsequently voted to allow same-sex nuptials, while a federal judge struck down Idaho’s gay marriage prohibition.
Stephen Reinhardt, the 9th Circuit judge who previously struck down California’s gay marriage ban in 2012, will be one of three judges to hear arguments in the latest cases on Monday. The other two 9th Circuit judges, Marsha Berzon and Ronald Gould, were both appointed by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.
A total 19 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage. Last year, the US Supreme Court invalidated a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act known as DOMA that limited federal benefits to heterosexual couples.
Since then, more than 30 federal and state judges have ruled against same-sex marriage bans. The Nevada and Hawaii opinions came before the US Supreme Court weighed in on DOMA.
On September 3, a Louisiana federal judge upheld that state’s ban on same-sex marriage in what was the first district court to break the pattern of support for gay marriage since the DOMA ruling.
The next day, the Chicago-based US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit struck down bans from Indiana and Wisconsin, joining two other appeals courts in similar rulings.
If the Supreme Court takes up the issue, the dispute would likely be heard in early 2015 with a decision by the end of June.
State officials initially defended Nevada’s gay marriage ban. Reinhardt, however, wrote another opinion in an unrelated case earlier this year which further heightened constitutional protections for gays and lesbians.
Nevada’s governor and attorney general promptly withdrew from the marriage case, writing that Reinhardt’s decision meant support of gay marriage restrictions “cannot withstand legal scrutiny.” The Coalition for the Protection of Marriage will argue in favor of the ban instead.
“More than a decade ago, Nevadans engaged in a large public debate about marriage – what it is and what it ought to be – and resolved that debate through their free, open, democratic process,” the coalition wrote in a court filing.
Hawaii’s governor, who supports gay marriage, argues that case is moot given the state now allows same sex weddings.