For Immediate Release - March 04, 2014

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 Oklahoma and Utah Violate the 14th Amendment

BOSTON – Arguing that laws prohibiting same-sex marriage in Oklahoma and Utah 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 Tenth Circuit. 

“As the momentum in support of same-sex marriage continues to build nationwide, our experience in Massachusetts has shown that removing unnecessary and harmful barriers only strengthens the institution of marriage,” AG Coakley said. “We once again urge the court to strike down these unconstitutional bans which only have the effect of harming gay and lesbian individuals and their families.”

AG Coakley led the filing of the amicus brief on behalf of Massachusetts and 14 other states, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia.

State laws in Oklahoma and Utah do not provide any rights or protections for same-sex couples, including those that have lawfully married in other states. The brief argues that by withholding the rights and protections associated with marriage these laws relegate gay and lesbian individuals, as well as their families, to second-class status.

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 birth rates, the brief refutes speculation offered by the proponents of restrictive marriage laws regarding the supposed negative effects of allowing same-sex couples to marry. The brief also argues that such laws actually harm families by denying the legal and social benefits of marriage to same-sex couples and their children.

The brief further argues that states “establish policies that encourage individuals to get and stay married because they recognize that marriage provides stability for families, households, and the broader community; that children are better off when they are raised by loving, committed parents; and that state resources are preserved when spouses provide for each other and their children.”

The brief was filed in connection with two related cases challenging the bans on same-sex marriage in both states: Mary Bishop, et al. v. Sally Howe Smith, et al., on appeal from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, and Derek Kitchen, et al. v. Gary R. Herbert, et al., on appeal from the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah.

This matter was handled by Jonathan Miller, Chief of AG Coakley’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant Attorneys General Genevieve Nadeau and Michelle Leung 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 actively in several 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 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.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hollingsworth, AG Coakley has continued to lead the states’ effort in support of gay and lesbian couples. On Oct. 25, 2013, AG Coakley filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in cases challenging Hawaii’s and Nevada’s bans on same-sex marriage. Those cases are still pending before the Court of Appeals.


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