LAS VEGAS – A federal appeals court declared gay marriage legal in Idaho and Nevada on Tuesday, setting the stage for couples to marry in Las Vegas, the self-proclaimed wedding capital of the world.
State after state has joined the national tide in legalizing same-sex unions, given a push by a U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal earlier this week to hear gay marriage appeals that effectively made same-sex marriage legal in 30 states. The decision cleared the way for a dramatic expansion of gay marriage in the United States and might have signalled that it’s only a matter of time before same-sex couples can marry in all 50 states.
On Tuesday, Idaho and Nevada joined the group when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that gay couples’ equal protection rights were violated by the gay marriage bans in both states.
“This is a super sweet victory,” said Sue Latta, who along with Traci Ehlers sued Idaho last year to compel the state to recognize their 2008 marriage in California. Three other couples also joined the lawsuit to invalidate Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban.
“Taxes are easier, real estate is easier, parenting is easier, end-of-life planning is easier,” Latta said.
Logan Seven, 54, a limousine driver for Chapelle de l’amour wedding chapel in downtown Las Vegas, said he always wanted to get married on a beach, barefoot and in a white tuxedo.
“Trying to find the right man is the hard part,” he said Tuesday after his boss told him about the gay marriage ruling.
The Chicago native said he was surprised when he moved to Las Vegas and learned that the town that touts itself as a marriage capital didn’t allow gay marriages. “It’s a no-brainer,” Seven said. “Love is love.”
Couples in Idaho can start getting married immediately, likely tomorrow. In Nevada, a U.S. District Court judge still must issue a formal injunction overturning the state’s gay marriage ban.
That likely won’t stop weddings from going forward Wednesday in Las Vegas. Officials in the Clark County clerk’s office say the marriage license bureau in Las Vegas will begin accepting license applications at 2 p.m. Wednesday from same-sex couples.
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.”
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 Reinhardt.
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.