The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Rob Boston, Simon Brown or Sarah Jones

Americans United and Allied Groups Ask Federal Court to Nullify Nevada and Hawaii Bans on Same-Sex Marriage

Marriage Prohibitions Violate Genuine Religious Freedom, Coalition Asserts


Americans United for Separation of Church and State has joined a legal brief asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to nullify amendments to the state constitutions of Nevada and Hawaii that prohibit same-sex marriage.

The friend-of-the-court brief, filed Friday by Americans United, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and 28 other civil rights and civil liberties groups, argues that overturning the marriage bans not only would ensure that religious considerations do not influence what marriages the two states can recognize but also would allow religious groups to decide the definition of marriage for themselves.

"Marriage should not be defined in any state based purely on narrow sectarian beliefs," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Allowing powerful religious groups to define marriage for everyone is fundamentally at odds with what America is supposed to be about."

The brief asserts that making same-sex marriage illegal is not necessary for a government to protect religious liberty. In fact, the bans do nothing more than enshrine the religious doctrine into law, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

"Hawaii and Nevada had no legitimate secular purpose in adopting that selective religious definition of marriage," the brief asserts. "Rather, the legislative history and ballot initiative campaign materials confirm that those responsible for passing the Marriage Bans had the specific motive of tying the definition of marriage to a particular religious tradition's understanding of that civil institution."

Continued the brief, "While protecting religious liberty is a legitimate governmental interest in general, what the proponents of the Marriage Bans actually urge is that Hawaii and Nevada be allowed to enact a particular religious view of marriage to the exclusion of other religious views. State governments have no legitimate interest in enacting legislation that merely adopts a particular version of Judeo-Christian religious morality."

Nevada voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment limiting the definition of marriage to one man and one woman in 2002. But in 2009, the state legislature approved domestic partnerships for all couples living together, regardless of gender.

The Nevada case, Sevcik v. Sandoval, was brought by four same-sex couples who sought marriage licenses in Nevada and four more couples who had been married in California and Canada and sought recognition of those marriages in Nevada.

Hawaii law does not currently allow same-sex marriages but does recognize same-sex civil unions. However, the state legislature is now considering legalizing same-sex marriages, over the objections of several religious groups.

The Hawaii case, Jackson v. Abercrombie, contested the constitutionality of both the state's ban on same-sex marriage and its recognition of civil unions only.

The two cases have been combined into a single appeal.

The brief was prepared by attorneys from the international law firm Ropes & Gray LLP and the Anti-Defamation League, with input from Americans United Associate Legal Director Alex Luchenitser.

Other groups joining Americans United and the ADL include: Hadassah, The Women's Zionist Organization of America; Interfaith Alliance Foundation; Metropolitan Community Churches; More Light Presbyterians; The National Council of Jewish Women; People For the American Way Foundation; Society for Humanistic Judaism; Unitarian Universalist Association and Women's League for Conservative Judaism.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.