Supporters rally outside of the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Sioux Falls, S.D., Friday, Oct. 17, 2014.
Photo by Jay Pickthorn/The Argus Leader/AP

Federal judge strikes down South Dakota’s same-sex marriage ban


In yet another victory for marriage equality in a deeply conservative state, a federal judge on Monday struck down South Dakota’s ban on same-sex nuptials.

Citing the landmark 1967 Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia, which invalidated bans on interracial marriage, U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier found that South Dakota’s voter-approved marriage amendment violated same-sex couple’s fundamental right to wed. She stayed her ruling pending appeal.

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“Little distinguishes this case from Loving,” wrote Schreier, a President Bill Clinton appointee, in her 28-page opinion. “Plaintiffs have a fundamental right to marry. South Dakota law deprives them of that right solely because they are same-sex couples and without sufficient justification.”

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Same-sex marriage has been expressly prohibited in South Dakota since 1996, when the Legislature passed a statutory ban the same year that President Clinton signed into law the now-defunct Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Ten years later, in 2006, South Dakota voters moved to enshrine that ban in the state’s Constitution. In addition to barring gay and lesbian couples from marrying, South Dakota does not recognize same-sex marriages performed outside the state, and does not allow civil unions or domestic partnerships.

The state’s Republican Attorney General Marty Jackley is expected to appeal the decision to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled against marriage equality in a 2006 Nebraska case. Times have changed considerably since then, however, with same-sex couples now legally able to marry in 36 states plus the District of Columbia. Four federal appeals courts have ruled in favor of marriage equality, and another one – the conservative 5th Circuit – looks to be on the way.

Only one federal appeals court has found bans on same-sex nuptials constitutional since the Supreme Court overturned DOMA in 2013 and cleared the way for the federal government to begin recognizing marriages between gay and lesbian couples. Because of that so-called “circuit split,” the high court is expected to take up a marriage equality case in the near future and decide once and for whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed. The justices discussed the issue during their January conference last Friday, but have not yet said whether they will hear a case.

Marriage Equality and South Dakota

Federal judge strikes down South Dakota's same-sex marriage ban