Latta v. Otter

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 10-07-2014
  • Case #: 14-35420; 14-35421; 12-17668
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Reinhardt for the Court; Concurrences by Circuit Judges Gould and Berzon
  • Full Text Opinion

Statutes and constitutional amendments preventing same-sex couples from marrying and refusing to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed elsewhere violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because they deny people who wish to marry persons of the same sex a right they afford to individuals who wish to marry persons of the opposite sex, and do not satisfy the heightened scrutiny.

Idaho and Nevada passed statutes and enacted constitutional amendments preventing same-sex couples from marrying and refusing to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed elsewhere. Plaintiffs, same-sex couples who live in Idaho and Nevada and wish either to marry there or to have marriages entered into elsewhere recognized in their home states, sued for declaratory relief and to enjoin the enforcement of these laws. Plaintiffs sued on the grounds "that the laws are subject to heightened scrutiny because they deprive plaintiffs of the fundamental due process right to marriage, and because they deny them equal protection of the law by discriminating against them on the bases of their sexual orientation and their sex." Defendants argued that the laws survive heightened scrutiny because states have a compelling interest in "sending a message of support for the institution of opposite-sex marriage." Defendants also argued that "permitting same-sex marriage will seriously undermine this message, and . . . the institution of opposite-sex marriage is important because it encourages people who procreate to be responsible parents, and because opposite-sex parents are better for children than same-sex parents." The Ninth Circuit held that "Defendants’ essential contention . . .that bans on same-sex marriage promote the welfare of children, by encouraging good parenting in stable opposite-sex families" is merely speculative and conclusory. “Heightened scrutiny, however, demands more than speculation and conclusory assertions, especially when the assertions are of such little merit. Defendants. . . presented no evidence of any such effect. Indeed, they cannot even explain the manner in which, as they predict, children of opposite-sex couples will be harmed." The panel also held that since the defendants “failed to demonstrate that these laws further any legitimate purpose, they unjustifiably discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and are in violation of the Equal Protection Clause." AFFIRMED; REVERSED and REMANDED.

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