Victory! Federal Judge Strikes Down Discriminatory Arizona Marriage Ban

Browse By

Blog Search

October 17, 2014
Lead plaintiffs Karen Bailey and Nelda Majors

U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick today struck down Arizona’s discriminatory marriage ban, paving the way for same-sex couples across the state to apply for marriage licenses or to have their legal out-of-state marriages respected.

Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Jennifer C. Pizer said:

Welcome, Arizona - the 31st freedom to marry state! We are grateful that Judge Sedwick acted so quickly to remove the remaining barrier blocking same-sex couples from the privileges and protections of marriage. The lead couple in our lawsuit, Nelda and Karen, have been waiting to get married since Eisenhower was president. For them and many other couples, that long wait is finally over.

Judge Sedwick’s opinion was four pages long, agreeing with our clients and the recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling striking down discriminatory marriage bans in Nevada and Idaho that the bans violate the U.S. Constitution.

Judge Sedwick also declined to stay the ruling, stating:

A stay of this decision to allow defendants to appeal is not warranted.  It is clear that an appeal to the Ninth Circuit would not succeed.  It is also clear - based on the Supreme Court’s denial of petitions for writs of certiorari filed in connection with several circuit court decisions which held that same-sex marriage must be recognized in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin - that the High Court will turn a deaf ear on any request for relief from the Ninth Circuit’s decision.

Judge Sedwick’s ruling follows a blizzard of rulings over the past two weeks that have increased by nearly 60 percent the number of states where same-sex couples can marry or have their legal marriages recognized.

On October 6, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would not review seven marriage lawsuits from the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 4th, 7th and 10th Circuits that had struck down discriminatory marriage bans in Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Utah.

The next day, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down similar bans in Nevada and Idaho. Following that action, state officials from West Virginia and Colorado announced that they, too, would no longer prevent same-sex couples from marrying and federal judges subsequently struck down bans in North Carolina and Alaska. Today’s ruling brings to 31 the number of states where same-sex couples can marry.

Pizer added:

We are also hopeful that Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne reads the indelible writing on the wall - that equality plus liberty add up to marriage for same-sex couples here in Arizona just as in other Western states - and does not seek to appeal this decision. This past week, the 9th Circuit made its views on the subject unmistakably clear, and we trust the attorney general will not want to waste still more state resources continuing a futile fight against these loving, committed Arizona families.

The lead plaintiffs in Lambda Legal’s lawsuit Majors v. Jeanes, filed this past March, are Nelda Majors, 75, and Karen Bailey, 74, of Scottsdale, have been together for more than 57 years, and together have raised two children, Karen’s great grand-nieces Marissa and Sharla, as their own since the girls came into their home at ages 4 and 11 respectively. The girls are now 15 and 21.

Nelda said:

We are just so delighted. This was not a day I ever thought we’d see, and certainly not back in the early days of our relationship in Texas. It was a long wait, but how sweet it is.

The other plaintiffs include: four couples from Phoenix; David Larance, 35, and Kevin Patterson, 30, together for seven years and the parents of two girls; Michelle Teichner, 49, and Barbara Morrissey, 59, together for 10 years and married in New York; Kathy and Jessica Young, 41 and 29 respectively, together for almost 10 years, married in New York, and the parents of an eight-year-old son, Ian; and Patrick Ralph, 60, whose husband, Gary Hurst, died in August, 2013; three couples from Tucson; Kelli and Jennifer Hoelfe Olson, 36 and 38 respectively, together for 10 years, married in Minnesota and the mothers of twin two-year-old girls; Kent Burbank, 45, and Vicente Talanquer, 51,  together for 20 years, married in Iowa and the fathers of two adopted boys, Daniel, 12, and Martín, 14; and Josefina Ahumada, 68, whose wife, Helen Battiste, died in January; and one couple from Tempe, CJ and Jesús Castro-Byrd, 23 and 27 respectively, together for two years and married in Seattle.

In August, Lambda Legal added an eighth couple to the complaint, Fred McQuire, 69, and George Martinez, 62, of Green Valley, and asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona to compel the State to recognize their marriage immediately, as George was terminally ill with pancreatic cancer. George died in late August, and on September 12, 2014, Judge Sedwick granted Lambda Legal’s subsequent motion to compel the State to issue an accurate death certificate listing Fred as George’s surviving husband.

In addition to these individuals, Equality Arizona, the leading statewide organization advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (“LGBT”) people and their families in Arizona, is an organizational plaintiff representing the state’s nearly sixteen thousand same-sex couples and the more than five thousand children in Arizona with same-sex parents.

Read the press release.