PHOENIX — Lawyers for Arizona and a group of gay and lesbian couples who
sued the state over its ban on same-sex marriage want a judge to decide the case
without holding a full trial.
The attorneys told U.S. District Court Judge John W. Sedwick they believe he
can instead rule based on arguments each side will file in the coming months.
The lawyers are split on whether oral arguments are needed, with lawyers for
Arizona saying none are necessary. Lawyers for the couples want oral arguments
to be set for later this year.
The lawsuit filed by national gay-rights organization Lambda Legal on behalf of
seven couples and two surviving spouses argues that the U.S. Constitution’s
equal protection and due-process clauses are violated by the state law barring
them from being married. The state of Arizona is fighting the lawsuit, which was
filed in U.S. District Court in March.
A second lawsuit challenging Arizona’s ban is also working its way through the
courts and assigned to Sedwick, who declined in April to merge the cases. The
class-action lawsuit was filed by four same-sex couples in January. It is closer
to being fully briefed and could be decided before the case filed by Lambda
Legal. That case will be decided without holding a full trial, and there will
be no oral arguments.
Arizona lawmakers approved a state law barring same-sex marriages in 1996, and
the law was upheld by an Arizona appeals court seven years later. Voters in 2008
amended the Arizona Constitution to include the ban.
The schedule proposed by the attorneys in the Lambda lawsuit means the case
would be heard after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hears appeals from
Idaho and Nevada in September on cases from those states. A federal judge struck
down Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage in May. Another federal judge upheld
Nevada’s ban in 2012.
The 9th Circuit’s territory includes Arizona, and its decision would likely
guide Sedwick’s decision in the case. Another federal appeals court has already
upheld a lower-court ruling overturning a ban on gay marriage. The 10th Circuit
Court of Appeals ruled last month that Utah’s gay marriage ban was
unconstitutional. That case is expected to land at the U.S. Supreme Court, which
last year struck down a key part of the Clinton-era federal Defense of Marriage
Nineteen states permit gay marriages, and legal challenges against bans on the
practice have been filed in all 31 states that prohibit it. Proponents have won
in several states this year, with appeals pending from court decisions striking
down the laws in 11 states, according to the National Conference of State
Legislatures. Arizona and 19 other states have challenges pending.
In Monday’s filing, Lambda Legal attorneys and Arizona Solicitor General Robert
Ellman proposed a schedule for hearing the Arizona case that includes a request
for the judge to issue a ruling without a trial, a procedure called a summary
judgment. They will brief Sedwick between now and late October, and they are
asking him to set oral arguments as soon as possible after their legal briefs
If Sedwick follows the lead of many other federal judges that have heard gay
marriage cases this year, Arizona’s ban could be gone by the New Year.