For Immediate Release - October 25, 2013

AG Coakley Urges Federal Appeals Court to Strike Down Bans on Same-Sex Marriage

Leads Filing of Multi-State Amicus Brief Arguing that Marriage Bans in Hawaii and Nevada Violate the 14th Amendment

BOSTON – Arguing that Nevada’s and Hawaii’s laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, Attorney General Martha Coakley today led a coalition of states in filing a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  The brief argues that the laws violate the 14th Amendment and should be struck down. 

“Our experience in Massachusetts clearly shows that allowing same-sex couples to marry has only strengthened the institution of marriage,” AG Coakley said.  “We urge the Court to strike down these unconstitutional bans which only serve to discriminate against gay and lesbian individuals and their families.”

AG Coakley led the filing of the amicus brief pdf format of 2013-10-25-amicus-brief
on behalf of Massachusetts and 13 other states, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia.

State laws in Hawaii and Nevada provide many rights and protections for same-sex couples, but deny them the status of marriage. The AG’s brief argues that by withholding the title of marriage, restrictive marriage laws consign gay and lesbian individuals and their families to second-class status and unfairly withhold the social benefits and cultural significance associated with marriage.

AG Coakley’s brief also highlights the experiences of Massachusetts and other states that have ended the exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage. Relying on data regarding marriage rates, divorce rates, and percentages of out-of-wedlock births, the brief refutes speculation offered by the proponents of restrictive marriage laws as to the supposed negative effects of allowing same-sex couples to marry. The brief argues that the measure actually harms families by denying the legal and social benefits of marriage to same-sex couples and their children.

The brief further argues, “[T]he states favor – and therefore encourage – marriage over transient relationships because marriage promotes stable family bonds, fosters economic interdependence and security for members of the marital household, and enhances the physical and emotional well-being of both the partners to the marriage and their children….  All of these interests are furthered by including same-sex couples from the institution.”

The brief was filed in connection with two related cases challenging Nevada’s and Hawaii’s bans on same-sex marriage: Beverly Sevcik, et al. v. Brian Sandoval et al., on appeal from the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, and Natasha N. Jackson, et al. v. Neil S. Abercrombie, et al., on appeal from the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii.

This matter was handled by Jonathan Miller, Chief of AG Coakley’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant Attorney General Genevieve Nadeau of AG Coakley’s Civil Rights Division


On July 8, 2009, under Attorney General Coakley’s direction, Massachusetts filed a complaint alleging that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which affected hundreds of federal laws, violated the U. S. Constitution by interfering with the Commonwealth’s sovereign authority to define and regulate the marital status of its residents. Massachusetts was the only state in the nation ever to challenge DOMA’s constitutionality. 

In July 2010, DOMA was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts. On May 31, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld the lower court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately invited arguments in another case that challenged DOMA by a single plaintiff in New York.  AG Coakley, along with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, 13 other states and the District of Columbia, submitted a friend of the court brief in United States v. Windsor urging the Supreme Court to strike down DOMA as unconstitutional. 

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court declared DOMA unconstitutional, relying substantially on the arguments Massachusetts advanced in its own case. The decision ensures that federal benefits and protections will now be extended equally to married same-sex couples in Massachusetts and throughout the country.  

In addition, since 2010, AG Coakley has participated in marriage equality cases. On Oct. 25, 2010, AG Coakley filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry, urging that court to uphold a district court’s decision that California’s Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.  Proposition 8, like the laws of Hawaii and Nevada, conferred rights to same-sex couples, but denied them the title of marriage. Massachusetts was the only state (beside California) to participate at that stage of the litigation.

On Feb. 28, 2013, AG Coakley filed a friend of the court brief with the Supreme Court on behalf of Massachusetts, 12 other states, and the District of Columbia, urging the Court to affirm the Ninth Circuit’s ruling and strike down California’s Proposition 8 as unconstitutional.

On the same day as the DOMA decision in Windsor, the Supreme Court held that proponents of California’s ban on same-sex marriage did not have standing to appeal the district court’s order invalidating the law. This decision allowed same-sex couples to wed, once again, in California.


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