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9th Circuit ruling could clear the way for same-sex marriage in Arizona

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PHOENIX – Same-sex couples still aren’t able to marry in Arizona but took a major step closer to walking down the aisle Tuesday when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down gay marriage bans in Nevada and Idaho.

“It doesn’t mean everybody is free to marry who they love in Arizona,” said Kelly Dupps, training director for HERO, or Human and Equal Rights Organizers.

But Dupps said things are moving quickly for supporters of marriage equality here because Arizona is part of the 9th Circuit. The ruling came just one day after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear appeals against the legalization of gay marriage in five states.

“It bodes extremely well for (Arizona) coming behind those states,” Dupps said.

A 1996 state law bans same-sex marriage in Arizona, while in 2008 voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

A spokeswoman said the Arizona Attorney General’s Office had to carefully review Tuesday’s ruling before determining what the implications are for pending cases against Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“Until we can decide what the implications are for Arizona … today’s decision shouldn’t be treated as final,” Stephanie Grisham said.

Nevada and Idaho could still petition the U.S. Supreme Court for a review, she said.

There are currently two cases pending in U.S. District Court challenging Arizona’s ban.

Connolly vs. Roche and Majors vs. Horne were both filed this year challenging Arizona’s law refusing to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages and Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman as violations of equal protections under the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

Paul Bender, a professor at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, said the 9th Circuit’s ruling has a big impact on Arizona’s cases because U.S. District Judge John Sedwick, who is hearing both cases, must follow the higher court’s precedent.

Bender said the 9th Circuit could still rehear the Nevada and Idaho case en banc, meaning a larger panel of judges would review.

“If the 9th Circuit is not stayed, he (Sedwick) will follow what it does and grant relief to plaintiffs challenging the gay marriage ban,” he said.

Heather Macre, one of the attorneys representing same-sex couples in Connolly v. Roche, said the team plans to file a motion with supplemental authority in the hopes of getting a ruling more expeditiously. Without a ruling, she said, same-sex couples won’t be able to marry in Arizona.

“We still need an order here,” she said.

Macre said a lot depends on what the Attorney General’s Office decides to do.

“We have reached out asking them if they’re going to continue defending the ban,” she said.

Why Marriage Matters Arizona is spearheading a petition asking Horne to “stand down” in his continued defense of the ban.

Project Director Jeremy Zegas said Horne is now the only person standing in the way of marriage equality.

“We are calling on the attorney general to stop defending the clearly unconstitutional ban in the state and wasting state resources on this appeal,” Zegas said.

The Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative lobbying group, decried the ruling in a statement attributed to its president, Cathi Herrod.

“By fundamentally undermining the right of the people to vote to protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman, the Ninth Circuit Court has not only usurped their authority, but has taken another step to deny every child the best opportunity to have a mother and a father,” it said.