In the past month, at least a dozen new lawsuits have been launched all over the country as a result of the Supreme Court decisions. Some seek to end bans like Proposition 8 in other states. Others seek to secure for specific couples in specific circumstances the benefits of marriage that DOMA once barred.
Rulings in other lawsuits — those filed before the DOMA decision — have advanced the reach of marriage equality in numerous places since the end of June.
One important case resolved by the Windsor DOMA decision was Golinski v. U.S. A Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel issued a four-page order July 23, stating that the parties to the case agree that the Supreme Court’s decision means DOMA no longer stands in the way of allowing an employee of the federal circuit, Karen Golinski, to obtain health coverage for her same-sex spouse. Golinski had been represented by Lambda Legal.
And, with relatively little publicity, the lawyers hired by House Republican leaders to defend DOMA when President Obama refused indicated July 18 that, because of the Supreme Court’s ruling in U.S. v. Windsor, “the House has determined…that it will no longer defend that statute.”
Multiple states, multiple battles
These are all important developments, coloring in the lines that the Supreme Court has drawn with its rulings, and many are happening in states where civil rights for LGBT people almost never advance in a positive direction.
The ACLU and its affiliates have active cases underway in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. They also have a case with the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed in New Mexico.
Jon Davidson, legal director for the Lambda Legal, has litigation pending in New Jersey and Nevada, the latter of which is already at the federal appeals level. Lambda also has a case in Arizona seeking to preserve health coverage for the same-sex domestic partners of state employees.
And Lambda and the ACLU each have separate cases pending (and now consolidated) in Illinois, lawsuits filed before DOMA was struck down. They also filed a joint marriage equality lawsuit Aug. 1 in Virginia.
In addition to these, Davidson says he knows of lawsuits filed by attorneys working alone in Arkansas, Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah. And news reports have identified an additional private lawsuit in Kentucky.
Big cases in Ohio, Penn.
Two of the big newsmakers during the past month have involved cases in two of the bigger states: Ohio and Pennsylvania.
In Cincinnati, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black ruled July 19 that Ohio, which has a state constitutional amendment banning recognition of marriages between same-sex partners, must recognize the valid marriage license an Ohio gay couple obtained this month in Maryland.
In Obergefell v. Kasich, Judge Black, an appointee of President Obama, said there was “insufficient evidence of a legitimate state interest to justify this singling out of same sex married couples given the severe and irreparable harm it imposes.”
The case of John Arthur and James Obergefell garnered considerable attention from the national media, in part because the couple had to rent a charter airplane to transport the men to Maryland because Arthur is in the late stages of a terminal illness.
The men, who have been together for 20 years, were married on July 11 on the tarmac at a Baltimore airport and then flew back to Ohio. They filed their lawsuit July 19 and Judge Black granted their motion for a temporary restraining order against Ohio July 22.
Some judicial and political figures came to a similar conclusion in Pennsylvania.
There, in Montgomery County, the Register of Wills, Bruce Hanes, said he and other county officials had studied the Supreme Court’s ruling in the U.S. v. Windsor DOMA case and determined it required them to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The county began issuing licenses to same-sex couples July 24.
Even before this happened, the ACLU had filed a lawsuit in the federal district court of the state capital July 9, seeking to overturn the state ban on allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Also in Pennsylvania, a federal district judge ruled July 29 that the Supreme Court’s decision in the Windsor DOMA case requires a private employer of the late Sarah Ellyn Farley to pay death benefits to her spouse Jennifer Tobits under the federal ERISA plan. The National Center for Lesbian Rights represented the couple.
Lawsuits filed without big LGBT legal groups
But not every DOMA-related marriage lawsuit has Lambda, the ACLU, or any of the other big LGBT advocacy groups behind it. And not every one is meeting with success.
Domenico Nuckols of Galveston filed his own lawsuit in federal court in Galveston, Texas, July 2, seeking to overturn that state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples. But two weeks later, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit at Nuckols’ request; he said LGBT activists encouraged him to drop the case.
But legal challenges are underway in other Southern states. With the consent this month of the North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, the ACLU has amended an existing lawsuit, Fisher-Borne v. Smith — one that seeks the right for co-parent adoption — to now seek the right for same-sex couples to marry.
In addition to the Lambda Legal/ACLU lawsuit in Virginia, a gay couple in Norfolk, Virginia, filed their own lawsuit in federal district court July 18, challenging the state’s ban on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In Bostic v. McDonnell, Timothy Bostic and Tony London, who have been together for 23 years, say the state ban violates their rights to equal protection.
And three gay couples filed a lawsuit in an Arkansas federal court July 15 seeking to overturn that state’s ban on allowing same-sex couples to marry. The lawsuit is Jernigan v. Crane.
In Kentucky, a gay male couple that has been together for 31 years and was married in 2004 filed a lawsuit July 26 in the federal district court for Louisville. In Bourke v. Beshear, Gregory Bourke and Michael Deleon and their two children are suing Democratic Governor Steve Beshear, seeking to require the state to recognize marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples in other jurisdictions.
The lawsuit, filed with private counsel, is narrow. It only seeks to require the state recognize marriage licenses same-sex couples obtain in other states or jurisdictions.
In a web video interview with Louisville’s Courier-Journal, Bourke explained that the couple, who married in Canada, decided to file the lawsuit because both men are Kentucky natives who love “where we live.”
“So, when the Supreme Court rulings came out,” said Deleon, “that was probably the most hopeful day we’ve had in our 31 years that some day we might actually achieve marriage equality.”
Top photo: More than a dozen marriage equality lawsuits have been filed around the nation since June 26, the day the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the key part of the Defense of Marriage Act, prompting rallies like this one in Atlanta. (Photo by Laura Douglas-Brown)