Americans for Marriage Equality

Marriage in the Courts

As the national spotlight on marriage grows ever brighter and polling continues to show Americans moving inexorably in the direction of supporting equality for same-sex couples, there are over 70 marriage equality cases working their way through the judicial system across the country.  Currently twelve cases from eleven states are pending before six federal appeals courts.  The Sixth Circuit holds the distinction of being the only federal appeals court to date that will consider marriage cases from all states within its jurisdiction.  Three cases out of Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia have already been argued before federal appeals courts. Two states – Oregon and Pennsylvania – declined to appeal federal court rulings that struck down their marriage bans as unconstitutional.  In total, thirty states either have marriage equality, or have seen state marriage bans struck down as unconstitutional in court.  Same-sex couples can legally marry in nineteen states and the District of Columbia, while 31 states have a law or constitutional amendment restricting marriage to the union of one man and one woman.  Federal and state court cases have been filed in every state with a law or constitutional amendment banning marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

No social issue in modern history has enjoyed such a dramatic increase in public support as the issue of marriage equality, with strong a majority of Americans now in favor of marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples.



Mark Your Calendars
So far six federal appeals courts are presiding over twelve marriage equality cases over the coming weeks and months.  

Cases already heard by federal appeals courts:

  • Bostic v. Rainey, Virginia [Argument at the Fourth Circuit was held May 13, 2014]
  • Bishop v. United States, Oklahoma [Argument at the Tenth Circuit was held April 17, 2014]

Cases pending before federal appeals courts:

  • Sevcik v. Sandoval, Nevada [Argument at the Ninth Circuit set for September 8, 2014]
  • Latta v. Otter, Idaho [Argument at the Ninth Circuit set for September 8, 2014]
  • Jackson v. Abercrombie, Hawaii [Argument at the Ninth Circuit set for September 8, 2014]
  • DeLeon v. Perry, Texas, [Argument date at the Fifth Circuit not set]
  • Tanco v. Haslam, Tennessee [Argument at the Sixth Circuit set for August 6]
  • Bourke vs. Beshear, Kentucky [Argument at the Sixth Circuit set for August 6]
  • Obergefell v. Kasich, Ohio [Argument at the Sixth Circuit set for August 6]
  • Henry v. Himes, Ohio [Argument at the Sixth Circuit set for August 6]
  • DeBoer v. Snyder, Michigan [Argument at the Sixth Circuit set for August 6]
  • Baskin v. Bogan, Indiana [Argument date at the Seventh Circuit not set]
  • Wolf v. Walker, Wisconsin [Argument date at the Seventh Circuit not set]

The Sixth Circuit holds the distinction of being the only federal appeals court to date that will consider marriage cases from all states within its jurisdiction.

The Tenth Circuit was the first appeals court to hear argument on marriage equality cases since the Supreme Court's historic marriage rulings last year.  On Thursday, April 10th – barely a year after being filed in federal court in Utah – Kitchen v. Herbert was heard by a three-judge panel that was asked to consider a judge’s December ruling that struck down the state’s ban on marriage equality. 

One week later on Thursday, April 17, the judges presided over a similar case out of Oklahoma, Bishop v. United States, which challenges that state’s marriage ban after a federal judge ruled it unconstitutional in January of this year.

On Wednesday, June 25, the Tenth Circuit ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the Utah Case, striking down the state's ban on marrige equality. In a 2-1 decision authored by Judge Lucero on behalf of a three-judge panel, the court agreed with the low court’s ruling in which Judge Shelby wrote that the ban denies “[Utah’s] gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason.” The Tenth Circuit’s ruling represents the broadest appellate court ruling in favor of a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry.  The court applied strict scrutiny in striking down Utah’s marriage ban, providing the highest level of protection to same-sex couples.

The state now has the option to request an en banc appeal before the full bench of the Tenth Circuit. The Tenth Circuit decides whether or not to grant that request.  If denied, the defendants can also appeal today’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.  They may also bypass an en banc session and appeal directly to the Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, May 13, less than a year after being filed in federal district court and just months after a ruling by that court, a challenge to Virginia's ban on marriage equality was heard by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.  Bostic v. Schaefer (formerly Bostic v. Rainey) challenges Virginia’s constitutional amendment forbidding the state from performing or recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples. 


Each federal court decision striking down a state marriage ban has pointed to the Supreme Court’s equal protection ruling in Windsor, with many judges directly quoting Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the majority.  Among the most quoted passages from the Windsor ruling is a line in which Kennedy writes that maintaining separate tiers of relationships “humiliates thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.”

Thousands of same-sex couples in Utah, Michigan, Arkansas and Wisconsin have wed after federal and state courts struck down their marriage bans, although an appeals process is underway in each state. HRC has asked Attorney General Eric Holder  to ensure the couples that have married in Arkansas and Wisconsin are recognized as married by the federal government, just as he did for couples that wed in Utah and Michigan. 

Proposition 8 and DOMA were among the most visible symbols of anti-LGBT discrimination around the country and around the world. 

In United States v. Windsor, Edie Windsor, represented by the ACLU and Roberta Kaplan of the law firm Paul Weiss, challenged section 3 of DOMA which required her to pay $363,000 in estate taxes after her partner and spouse of more than 40 years passed away. If Edie had been married to a man, instead of a woman, it is undisputed that her estate tax bill would have been zero. Last week the Justice Department released a report detailing the Obama administration’s broad implementation of the Windsor ruling, which allowed the federal government to recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples for the purposes of crucial federal benefits and programs.  Under the leadership of President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, the breadth with which this administration has implemented the Windsor decision constitutes the single largest conferral of rights to LGBT people in history.  

Hollingsworth v. Perry, previously known as Perry v. Schwarzenegger and Perry v. Brown, was filed on behalf of two same-sex couples in federal district court in California in May 2009. Under the sponsorship of the American Foundation for Equality Rights – co-founded by HRC President Chad Griffin – and represented by conservative attorney Ted Olson and liberal attorney David Boies, the plaintiffs achieved victories in both district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, both of which ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional.

Since the Supreme Court ruled in Perry and Windsor, not a single state marriage ban has survived a federal court challenge.


At the time the Perry case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in the spring of 2009, only 40 percent of Americans supported marriage equality, according to Gallup.  A year later in 2010, the year Windsor was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, support had risen to 44 percent.  Today, Gallup puts support for marriage equality at 55 percent – an astonishing 15 points increase in just 5 years – with other polls showing support at even higher margins. 

And support for same-sex marriage rights continues to grow in virtually every demographic group.  According to ABC News / Washington Post, 77 percent of adults under age 30 favor marriage equality.  40 percent of Republicans – an all-time high and jump of 16 points in under two years – now support marriage for gay and lesbian couples, while the number of Catholics supporting marriage has grown to 62 percent, according to the New York Times.  These numbers continue to grow, with no indication that support will slow down. 

In June of 2014 released the results of a survey of 1,200 registered voters conducted by Republican pollster Alex Lundry of TargetPoint Consulting, which found that the number of Americans strongly opposed to national marriage equality has dipped to 28 percent.  When asked what they would do if the U.S. Supreme Court struck down discriminatory marriage bans across the country, only 3 percent of marriage equality opponents mentioned that they would protest the decision in any form.  The poll results also serve as a crystal ball to peer into the future of the Republican Party.  While only 29 percent of Republicans 41 and older support marriage equality, an astonishing 59 percent of those 40 years old and younger are in favor of same-sex marriage.  

Click here to see more marrige polling data.