WASHINGTON — A federal judge has declared that Wyoming cannot deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl put his ruling on hold until Oct. 23 to provide time for government officials to attempt an appeal if they wish. The ruling could go into effect sooner if government officials inform the court that they do not plan to appeal the decision.
Skavdahl was nominated to the bench by President Obama in 2011. The ruling parted ways from many others in recent months because he made it clear that he would not have reached an independent ruling striking down the Wyoming ban on same-sex couples' marriages if it were not for the fact that the appeals court to which his cases are appealed had not already struck down other states' bans.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, over the summer, struck down Utah and Idaho's bans on same-sex couples' marriages. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court denied both states' requests for the high court to hear its appeal of the ruling — letting the rulings stand and making those rulings the law that all lower courts within the circuit must follow.
"It is not the desire or preference of this Court to, with the stroke of a pen, erase a State's legislative enactments," Skavdahl wrote. "Nonetheless, the binding precedent of [the 10th Circuit cases striking down other bans] mandate this result, and this Court will adhere to its Constitutional duties and abide by the rule of law."
No comment yet from Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead or Attorney General Patrick Michael about today's ruling, but a spokeswoman said that statement could be forthcoming from Mead.
Laramie County Clerk Debra Lathrop informed the court that she will not be appealing the ruling.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead announced Friday evening that the state will not appeal.
"This result is contrary to my personal beliefs and those of many others. As in all matters, I respect the role of the courts and the ruling of the Court. ... While this is not the result I and others would have hoped, I recognize people have different points of view and I hope all citizens agree, we are bound by the law," said Mead in a statement.
The statement also says that the attorney general "will file notice with the court that the State will not appeal" the ruling.
Update, 2:28 p.m. Monday, Oct. 20: Marriages to start at 10 a.m. MT Tuesday:
U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl wrote that the outcome was required under the prior decision of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals striking down Utah and Oklahoma's bans on same-sex couples' marriages:
He did, however, grant a temporary stay of the injunction:
Here's his order:
Full statement from the governor's office:
CHEYENNE, Wyo. - The State of Utah and the State of Oklahoma defined marriage as only between a man and a woman. The laws of these states were challenged in the federal courts. On appeal, in each case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that the laws of Utah and Oklahoma violated the U.S. Constitution. Utah and Oklahoma appealed these decisions to the United States Supreme Court. The United States Supreme Court declined to hear these appeals. Wyoming was not a party to these proceedings and Wyoming's statute was not challenged.
Wyoming has a statute defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Unless a statute is challenged and determined to be unconstitutional by a court, it remains in effect. The Governor has no authority to invalidate a Wyoming statute and has an obligation to defend the laws of Wyoming.
Plaintiffs brought an action in the federal District Court for Wyoming, asking the Court to rule Wyoming's statute also violates the U.S. Constitution.
Today, the federal district court has issued a preliminary injunction in the matter of Guzzo v. Mead. This decision allows same-sex couples to marry in Wyoming. The Attorney General, after reviewing the ruling of the federal district court, has advised that an appeal to the very court that ruled these laws unconstitutional, an opinion that the Supreme Court declined to review, would be unlikely to succeed.
"This result is contrary to my personal beliefs and those of many others. As in all matters, I respect the role of the courts and the ruling of the Court," said Governor Mead.
There are complicated legal questions between the state and federal court system. The plaintiffs have also filed a state court case, which is still active, although any decision by that court would not change the right of same-sex couples to marry.
"While this is not the result I and others would have hoped, I recognize people have different points of view and I hope all citizens agree, we are bound by the law," said Governor Mead.
The federal court's order, which will come into effect no later than Thursday, October 23, 2014, at 5:00 p.m., allows same-sex couples to marry in Wyoming. The District Court suspended its order to permit the State of Wyoming to appeal its decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The Attorney General will file notice with the court that the State will not appeal before that date.
Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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