SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court declared gay marriage legal in Idaho and Nevada on Tuesday, a day after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage in 30 other states.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco struck down Idaho and Nevada's bans on gay marriage, ruling they violated equal protection rights.
The court also has jurisdiction in three other states that still have marriage bans in place: Alaska, Arizona and Montana. Lawsuits challenging bans in those states are still pending in lower courts and have not reached the 9th Circuit.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel that laws that treat people differently based on sexual orientation are unconstitutional unless there is a compelling government interest. He wrote that neither Idaho nor Nevada offered any legitimate reasons to discriminate against gay couples.
"Idaho and Nevada's marriage laws, by preventing same-sex couples from marrying and refusing to recognize same-sex marriages celebrated elsewhere, impose profound legal, financial, social and psychic harms on numerous citizens of those states," Reinhardt wrote.
He rejected the argument that same-sex marriages will devalue traditional marriage, leading to more out-of-wedlock births.
"This proposition reflects a crass and callous view of parental love and the parental bond that is not worthy of response," Reinhardt wrote. "We reject it out of hand."
Technically, the court upheld a trial judge's ruling striking down Idaho's ban and reversed a lower court ruling upholding Nevada's ban
Reinhardt ordered a "prompt issuance" of a lower court order to let same-sex couples wed In Nevada.
"We are absolutely delighted that wedding bells will finally be ringing for same-sex couples in Nevada," said Tara Borelli, the lawyer who argued the Nevada case for Lambda Legal.
Monte Neil Stewart, the Idaho-based attorney who argued the case for Nevada on behalf of the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, declined to say whether he'll challenge the order for the prompt start to same-sex marriages. Nevada's governor and attorney general dropped out of the appeal earlier this year.
Reinhardt didn't say when marriages should start in Idaho.
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden's spokesman Todd Dvorak said his office believes the 9th Circuit's stay on marriages pending a U.S. Supreme Court appeal remains in place.
"We are reviewing the decision by the court and assessing all of Idaho's legal options," Wasden said in a prepared statement.
Sue Latta and Traci Ehlers sued Idaho last year to compel Idaho to recognize their 2008 marriage in California. Three other couples also joined the lawsuit to invalidate Idaho's same-sex marriage ban.
"This is a super sweet victory," said Latta, who said the ruling came much sooner than she expected.
"Taxes are easier, real estate is easier, parenting is easier, end of life planning is easier," Latta said. "We no longer have to hire an attorney. We have a valid marriage license."
State and federal court judges have been striking down bans at a rapid rate since a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year. The 9th Circuit ruling comes a day after the nation's top court effectively legalized gay marriage in 11 more states, for a total of 30, when it rejected a set of appeals.
The appeals court panel did not rule on a similar case in Hawaii, which legalized gay marriage in December. Hawaii's governor had asked the court to toss out a lawsuit challenging the state's ban and an appeal to the 9th Circuit filed before Hawaii lawmakers legalized same-sex marriage.
All three judges on the panel were appointed by Democratic presidents. President Bill Clinton appointed Judges Marsha Berzon and Ronald Gould. President Jimmy Carter appointed Judge Stephen Reinhardt.
During oral arguments in September, the debate in the appeals court over Idaho and Nevada bans focused on harm to children.
Lawyers seeking to invalidate the bans argued children of gay couples are stigmatized when their parents are prevented from marrying. Attorneys supporting the bans said gay marriages devalue traditional marriages, which will lead to fewer weddings and more single-parent homes.