January 20, 2015 at 4:53 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Court halts same-sex marriage lawsuits in North Dakota
gavel, law, court, gay news, Washington Blade

A federal court has placed on hold litigation seeking marriage rights in North Dakota. (Photo by Bigstock)

Following news the U.S. Supreme Court would consider the issue of marriage rights for same-sex couples, a federal judge has halted lawsuits seeking the legalization of gay nuptials in North Dakota until the high court renders further guidance.

Without explanation, Chief Judge Ralph Erickson, an appointee of George W. Bush, indicated he’s placed a stay on the two cases pending “a decision by the United States Supreme Court in four consolidated cases.”

On Friday, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in four cases seeking marriage rights for same-sex couples in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. The expectation is justices will deliver a nationwide ruling on the marriage issue that will inform lower courts by the middle of this year.

The two cases pending before the judge were Ramsay et al v. Dalrymple et al, which was filed by Minneapolis-based law firm Madia Law LLC and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Jorgensen et al v. Montplaisir et al, which was filed by private attorneys and the LGBT group Lambda Legal.

Chris Stoll, a senior attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said he’s “disappointed” the district court won’t rule on litigation in North Dakota as judges have in many other states.

“North Dakota is one of a few remaining states where same-sex couples are denied the freedom to marry, and the harms imposed by that ban are continuing, real, and in some cases, irreparable,” Stoll said. “Every day the ban remains in place, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people are denied one of the most basic freedoms in our society — and deprived of the basic protections that protect families in the face of illness, crisis, and death.”

Joshua Newville, an associate attorney at Madia Law, expressed disappointment Erickson has elected to wait as same-sex couples seek the right to marry.

“The plaintiff couples brought this case on June 6, 2014,” Newville said. “Their case was fully presented to the court on September 5, 2014. They have been waiting for over four months. They were saddened to learn today they must now wait yet another half year for a ruling on whether their families can be treated as second class.”

Kyle Palazzolo, a staff attorney in the Midwest Regional Office of Lambda Legal, also expressed disappointment no action would be taken in North Dakota until the Supreme Court rules.

“We’re disappointed that the court didn’t take action, there are same-sex couples who are waiting for and need a decision on this as soon as possible,” Palazzolo said. “We also don’t think there’s anything that should stop the trial court from acting on this case just because of the news out of the Supreme Court.”

Asked whether Lambda would seek to challenge the stay on the litigation, Palazzolo replied, “That’s not something we’ve discussed at this point.”

Just last week, a federal court struck down the ban on same-sex marriage in South Dakota as a result of related litigation in that state. U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier placed her decision on hold until appeals in the case are complete, although plaintiffs in the case have pledged to challenge the stay.

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

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