State attorneys general offered on Thursday differing arguments for why the Supreme Court should issue a nationwide decision on the constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry — although these officials held the same view justices should make a final ruling on the issue.
In one friend-of-court brief, a set of 15 attorneys general say the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was correct in overturning Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, arguing the Supreme Court should make that standard apply across the country.
But in a separate filing, another set of 14 attorneys general maintain the Supreme Court should deliver a final answer on the issue, but make no explicit statement on whether justices should uphold bans on gay nuptials.
The brief in support of marriage equality argues for a nationwide standard, because, among other reasons, legal uncertainties as a result of some jurisdictions not recognizing the unions of married same-sex couples.
“A spouse in a same-sex marriage may turn down a new job or a promotion if it requires a transfer to a state that does not recognize his or her marriage,” the brief states. “Same-sex spouses may decline to pursue educational opportunities for the same reason. In other circumstances, a sick parent or relative may require care in another State, but concern for loss of marital status and its attendant rights may dissuade individuals from relocating, potentially placing greater stress on other relatives or burdening the family’s financial resources.”
The brief was signed by attorneys general in Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington State.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who’s running for governor in her state, is credited with the leading the effort among state attorneys general seeking a nationwide ruling for marriage equality.
“Our experience in Massachusetts clearly shows that allowing same-sex couples to marry has only benefitted families and strengthened the institution of marriage,” Coakley said in a statement. “We urge the U.S. Supreme Court to take up this important civil rights issue and ensure equal access to marriage for all couples nationwide.”
The other brief was submitted by states that lack marriage equality, but doesn’t explicitly make a statement on the constitutionality of bans on same-sex marriage.
Instead, the brief makes the case that the Supreme Court should take up the marriage issue because litigation seeking marriage equality is burdening the states. For example, the filling says, clerks have raised legal questions by distributing marriage licenses in states without marriage equality, and numerous court orders have complicated administration in these states.
“Absent this Court taking up the issue, these types of conflict will likely continue to play out in the pending same-sex marriage cases,” the brief says. “Far better than allowing this discord to be aired from court-to-court across the country, this Court can swiftly resolve the legal disputeand thereby take control of the conflict.”
But the brief isn’t completely free of language in opposition to marriage equality. At one point, it says federal involvement on the issue “raises the prospect of a new federal constitutional limit on State marriage laws” and argues litigation is hampering the democratic process for states considering the marriage issue.
The brief was signed by attorneys general in Colorado, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who filed a lawsuit against Boulder Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall for distributing marriage licenses to gay couples, is credited with the being the lead on this brief.
These friend-of-the-court briefs join petitions already filed before the court by Utah, Virginia and Oklahoma, which appeal decisions overturning same-sex marriage bans in those states (although technically the Oklahoma brief was filed by Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of the Tulsa Court Clerk, not the state). Altogether, a total of 32 states have now called on the Supreme Court to make a final determination on the marriage issue.
Attorneys general that didn’t sign either brief serve in Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Wyoming, Nevada, Ohio as well as D.C.
The Supreme Court will have an opportunity to decide whether it’ll take up one of the marriage cases during its first conference of the upcoming term on September 29. Justices may decide to choose a case then, or wait until a subsequent conference to make a determination.
Briefs from the attorneys general were filed alongside a bevy of other friend-of-the-court briefs calling on the Supreme Court to settle the marriage issue. Another prominent brief filed by 30 employers — including Target, Nike, Amazon.com, eBay and Bloomberg LP — calls for the Supreme Court to issue a nationwide ruling in favor of marriage equality.
Other briefs seeking a ruling upholding bans on same-sex marriage were filed by the conservative group known as Judicial Watch as well as religious groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Church of Latter-Day Saints.