Marriage equality wasn’t going to let the midterm elections have all the attention.
With hours to go until the polls close on tight races for Kansas Republican incumbents Gov. Sam Brownback and Sen. Pat Roberts, a federal judge on Tuesday declared the state’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.
The decision marks the latest fallout from the U.S. Supreme Court’s move last month to let stand three appeals court rulings in favor of marriage equality. One of those courts -- the 10th Circuit -- has appellate jurisdiction over Kansas, hence U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree’s decision Tuesday to overturn the state’s ban.
“Judging the constitutionality of democratically enacted laws is among ‘the gravest and most delicate’ enterprises a federal court ever undertakes,” wrote Crabtree, a President Obama appointee, in his 38-page opinion. “But just as surely, following precedent is a core component of the rule of law. When the Supreme Court or the Tenth Circuit has established a clear rule of law, our Court must follow it.”
In two separate rulings earlier this year, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down same-sex marriage bans in Oklahoma and Utah. Those rulings became final last month when the Supreme Court justices declined to review either case, as well as similar cases out of the 4th and 7th Circuits. Because of that action, marriage equality became the law of the land throughout the states where those cases originated -- Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin -- as well as throughout the other states with same-sex marriage bans that belong to the same circuits -- Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming.
A day after the Supreme Court’s move, another federal appeals court — the 9th Circuit — struck down marriage laws in Idaho and Nevada, essentially making bans in three other states bound to that appellate ruling impossible to defend. In two days, marriage equality looked poised to jump from 19 states plus the District of Columbia to 35.
Some elected officials have vowed to continue defending their bans, however, leaving marriage equality’s march to 35 still incomplete. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has until next week to decide whether he’ll appeal Crabtree’s ruling, which is on hold until then. If he chooses not to appeal, Kansas will become the 33rd state where gay and lesbian couples can legally wed.