Arizona, Alaska join 29 other states recognizing gay marriage

A federal judge in Arizona has struck down that state’s gay marriage ban, and the US Supreme Court has turned away a request by Alaska officials seeking a stay of a federal court ruling striking down that state’s ban.

Rick Scuteri/AP
Kevin Patterson (l.) and David Larance exchange vows by the Rev. John Dorhaer (r.), Friday, in Phoenix. Gay marriage has become legal in Arizona after the state's conservative attorney general said Friday that he wouldn't challenge a federal court decision that cleared the way for same-sex unions in the state.

Two states – Arizona and Alaska – on Friday joined the ranks of 29 other state governments giving full recognition to same-sex marriage.

The additions came after a federal judge in Arizona struck down that state’s ban and the Arizona attorney general announced that he would not file an appeal.

And the US Supreme Court turned away a request by state officials in Alaska seeking a stay of a federal court ruling last weekend striking down that state’s ban. The high court’s move allows the lower court ruling to stand and effectively permits same-sex marriages to begin in Alaska.

The actions mean that same-sex marriages are fully legal and able to be performed in 31 of the 50 states. Friday’s developments further narrowed the field of states that continue to defend laws and constitutional amendments defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

In addition to the 31 states, four other states are located in a federal circuit where legal precedent will require lower courts to strike down gay marriage bans once litigation gets to that point. Those states are Kansas, Montana, South Carolina, and Wyoming.

A federal judge in Wyoming struck down that state’s ban on Friday, but stayed his ruling to allow state officials time to decide if they will appeal. If they don’t appeal, Wyoming would become the 32nd state on the list of same-sex marriage states.

The 15 states with marriage bans still in place but under legal challenge are: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas.

In another major development on Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the federal government would recognize same-sex marriages in the states affected by the Supreme Court’s recent decision not to review gay marriage rulings from three federal appeals courts.

The high court action meant that the lower court rulings invalidating gay marriage bans in five states would stand. It also meant that the underlying legal precedents would be applicable to other states in those same judicial circuits.

In his statement, Mr. Holder said the federal government would recognize same-sex marriages now taking place in the affected states.

“I have directed lawyers here at the Department of Justice to work with our colleagues at agencies across the administration to ensure that all applicable federal benefits are extended to those couples as soon as possible,” he said.

“With their long-awaited unions, we are slowly drawing closer to full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans nationwide,” Holder said.

He added: “But there remain too many places in this country where men and women cannot visit their partners in the hospital, or be recognized as the rightful parents of their own adopted children; where people can be discriminated against just because they are gay.”

Other litigation concerning gay marriage bans is continuing, Holder noted. He pledged that if a case rises to the Supreme Court, the administration would file a brief supporting same-sex marriages.

“In the meantime,” Holder said, “we will continue to extend federal benefits to same-sex couples to the fullest extent allowed by federal law.”

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