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US Federal Judges Cancel Same-Sex Marriage Bans

From VOA Learning English, welcome to As It Is!

I’m Christopher Cruise in Washington.

Today we talk about the issue of same-sex marriage.

About one-third of all American states permit marriagesbetween two individuals of the same sex. In recentyears, some federal judges have canceled state lawsbanning same-sex unions. And several states haveasked higher courts to overturn those rulings.

More Battles Expected Over Same-Sex Marriages

Some Americans would describe Utah as one of the country’s most conservative states. In December, afederal judge ruled that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage wasunconstitutional. Many same-sex couples got married soon after the rulingwas announced.

Seth Anderson and his partner were the first of hundreds of gay couples tomarry in Utah after the judge’s ruling in December.


“We are so happy, and I am so proud to be in Utah right now."

Philip Lott is Utah’s assistant attorney general. He had a different reaction to the judge’s decision.

“The state is disappointed in the ruling.”

The governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, also criticized the legal decision. He saidthat “an activist federal judge is attempting to override the will of the people ofUtah.”

The federal judge’s ruling was surprising because Utah is home to theMormon Church -- the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The groupstrongly opposes homosexuality -- sexual behavior between members of thesame sex.

Ari Waldman is a professor at the New York UniversitySchool of Law. He says the judge in Utah was followingan earlier ruling by the United States Supreme Court.

The sun sets behind the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)

“The Supreme Court said that the federal governmentcannot discriminate against legally married same-sexcouples.”

The Supreme Court found that a law called the 1996Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. The lawsaid the federal government could not recognize same-sex marriages. But Professor Waldman adds that the court did not saywhether a state could ban such marriages.

Professor Ari Waldman says the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sexmarriage did have an effect. He says it strengthened legal arguments forending state bans on such unions.

But in January, the Supreme Court intervened in the Utah case. It ordered asuspension of same-sex marriages while the state appealed the lower court’sdecision.

Gay couples are fighting for the right to marry in many states that ban gaymarriages. And gay-rights groups are working to end bans on same-sexmarriage by getting support from legislators or voters.

US Attorney General Eric Holder

Groups opposed to same-sex marriage are still active, but they appear not asstrong as they once were. For many years, opponents of same-sex marriagehad won the fight. They said states should be able to decide whether theywould permit same-sex marriage. But supporters of same-sex marriagebelieve the US Constitution does not give states the right to ban same-sexmarriages. And recently, in federal courts and state legislatures, they havebeen winning.

The Utah ruling was one of many legal and political victories for homosexualor gay rights across the nation in 2013. The number of states where same-sex marriage is legal rose to 17, plus the District of Columbia.

Public opinion surveys show a growing majority of Americans support the rightof gay people to marry.

Two months ago, the Justice Department told its employees to give same-sexcouples the same rights as other couples. Attorney General Eric Holderannounced that his office will give people in same-sex marriages “the sameprivileges, protections and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federallaw.” This means same-sex couples will no longer be dealt with differently infederal courts and will have the same federal assistance as other couples.

Also in February, the state government in Nevadadecided to stop supporting a ban on same-sexmarriage. The governor of Nevada said he believed thestate’s position would not be accepted by a judge asconstitutional. Voters in Nevada approved the ban 12years ago.

Officials in other states have decided against defendingtheir bans on same-sex marriage. They believe federaljudges will not accept their arguments that the laws are permitted under theConstitution.


US Supreme Court

In Virginia, a federal judge cancelled a state law banning same-sexmarriages. Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment banningsame-sex marriage in 2006. The judge said such a ban was just asunconstitutional as were laws banning interracial marriages. Those laws werecancelled 50 years ago.

Last month, a federal judge canceled a ban on same sex marriage inMichigan. The judge said the ban violates the US Constitution’s guarantees ofequal protection under the law. Several hundred marriages were performed inMichigan in late March. Michigan’s governor has said the marriages are legal, but his state will not recognize them. The move blocked some stateassistance meant only for traditional married couples.

Americans are still talking about the US SupremeCourt’s ruling in the Defense of Marriage Act. ProfessorAri Waldman says the beliefs of Justice AnthonyKennedy have had an effect on the decisions of lowercourts. He says Justice Kennedy does not believe thattradition should be used as a reason to keep same-sexcouples from being married.

“There is no doubt that the state bans on same-sexmarriage are on thin ice. Justice Kennedy was pretty clear about theguarantee of equality for gay couples. With each decision, more and morepeople in this country are living in ‘marriage equality’ states, which means thatmore and more people are going to live in a world where gay couples aregetting married.”

Professor Waldman expects courts to rule on same-sex marriage bans in asmany as 10 states this year. And he says one or two states may legalize gaymarriage either through the legislative process or by special elections. Hesays the issue is likely to return to the Supreme Court, but he is not surewhen.

This show was based on a report from VOA’s Michael Bowman. You cancomment on this program on our website, learningenglish.voanews.com. Orsend an email to LearningEnglish@VOANews.com

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I’m Christopher Cruise.

Thanks for listening!

Join us tomorrow for another As It Is from VOA Learning English.

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