January 25, 2014 | by Chris Johnson
Nevada AG re-evaluating defense of marriage ban
Nevada, Catherine Cortez Masto, gay news, Washington Blade

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto is reconsidering defense of her state’s marriage equality ban. (Photo public domain)

The attorney general of Nevada has announced she’s re-evaluating her defense of the state’s marriage ban in court, saying her previous arguments are “likely no longer tenable.”

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat who filed a 55-page legal brief on Tuesday defending her state’s ban on same-sex marriage, said in a statement late Friday she’s reconsidering her position following a significant ruling in favor of gay rights.

“A potentially significant case was decided by the Ninth Circuit on Tuesday of this week, the same day that a brief was filed on behalf of the State in Nevada’s same-sex marriage case,” Masto said. “The Ninth Circuit’s new decision, entitled SmithKline Beechum Corp. v. Abbott Laboratories, appears to impact the equal protection and due process arguments made on behalf of the State. After careful review of the SmithKline decision these arguments are likely no longer tenable in the Ninth Circuit.”

Masto took criticism not only for defending her state’s ban on same-sex marriage when other Democrats, most recently Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, have declined to defend similar laws, but also for invoking incest and bigamy in her argument against marriage equality before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

But the brief was filed on the same day the Ninth Circuit handed down a landmark decision in case of SmithKline Beechum Corp. v. Abbott Laboratories. The three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit ruled a court cannot exclude jurors from a case based on their sexual orientation, applying heightened scrutiny, a greater assumption a law is unconstitutional, to the decision.

As legal experts have pointed out, the application of heightened scrutiny in that case holds legal precedent in the Ninth Circuit on laws related to sexual orientation and makes it more likely courts within the jurisdiction will rule marriage bans are unconstitutional.

Although Masto argued in her brief Nevada’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage shouldn’t be subjected to heightened scrutiny, her statement on Friday reveals she reconsidering that view.

“This office will conduct further review over the weekend in order to evaluate the State’s argument in light of SmithKline,” Masto said. “We will be discussing this with the governor’s office next week.”

Derek Washington, lead organizer for the LGBT group GetEQUAL Nevada, said he’s “still gobsmacked” by the invocation of bigamy and incest in Masto’s earlier brief and urged her to make a decision in favor of marriage equality.

“I have said from the beginning let’s stop pussyfooting around while states all around us are getting marriage equality (and our money),” Washington said. “Let’s go to the courts every which way. I want to go World War 3 on this. We are the wedding capital of the entire world. Economically Nevada needs marriage equality right now, not in a few years.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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