A federal judge has struck down South Dakota’s ban on same-sex marriage, but put her ruling on hold for an indefinite period to allow the state time to appeal, the Associated Press reports.
In a 28-page decision, U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier today ruled that the South Dakota ban violated the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. She said the state has not shown that the ban serves a compelling governmental interest, and that it deprives same-sex couples of a fundamental right.
She cited Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court decision that struck down laws against interracial marriage. “In Loving, the Supreme Court addressed a traditionally accepted definition of marriage that prohibited Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving from marrying,” Schreier wrote. “Because Virginia’s laws deprived that couple of their fundamental right to marriage, the Court struck down those laws. Little distinguishes this case from Loving. 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.”
She also rejected the “slippery slope” argument that legalizing same-sex marriage would lead to the legalization of polygamy or incest. “Regulations on polygamy or incest are not at issue in this case,” she wrote. “Additionally, this argument is logically flawed and distracts from the distinct issue presented by same-sex marriage bans. … The Supreme Court has never held that there is a protected privacy or liberty interest in polygamy or incest, but the Supreme Court has extended constitutional protection to same-sex intimate conduct and relationships.”
The suit was brought last year by six same-sex couples, represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights along with law firms in Minneapolis and Sioux Falls, S.D. “We are thrilled for our clients and for all same-sex couples in South Dakota, who have watched and waited as progress has been made in so many other states, and who can now see light at the end of the tunnel in their own state,” said NCLR senior staff attorney Christopher F. Stoll in a press release. “We are also grateful to Judge Schreier for writing such a detailed and powerful analysis and for affirming in such strong terms that same-sex couples have the same fundamental freedom to marry as others. We hope this decision will hasten the day when the Supreme Court decides this issue for the country and ensures that all families are treated fairly and equally under the law.”
South Dakota is in the Eighth Circuit for federal appellate courts. The Eighth Circuit has not yet heard a marriage equality case, but two other states in the circuit, Missouri and Arkansas, are appealing pro–marriage equality rulings to the court.
This is the 58th victory for marriage equality in a state or federal court since the Supreme Court struck down a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, notes activist group Freedom to Marry. “Today’s ruling out of South Dakota affirms what nearly every court in the past year has held: loving and committed same-sex couples are guaranteed the freedom to marry by the U.S. Constitution,” said a statement issued by the group’s founder and president, Evan Wolfson. “Now is the time for the Supreme Court to take up a case and end marriage discrimination once and for all.”
The high court has not yet to accepted any marriage equality case for review.