June's historic Supreme Court decision made marriage equality the law of the land -- allowing same-sex couples throughout the U.S. to legally enter into marriage and overturning or voiding the provisions of state laws prohibiting this practice. However, several jurisdictions are not taking this ruling lying down and are scrambling for ways to refuse to issue marriage licenses to or solemnize marriages of same-sex couples. What are your options if your local clerk or court refuses to abide by this ruling and issue a marriage license for you and your partner? Read on to learn more about what this ruling could mean for you.
What effect did the Supreme Court decision have on local laws?
The U.S. Supreme Court is the final arbiter of all constitutional challenges, and is charged with enforcing the provisions of the U.S. Constitution. Any federal challenges to state laws (such as allegations that certain laws or practices deny rights to a protected group or violate existing and established rights) can be litigated in a district federal court, then appealed to the Supreme Court. Once the Supreme Court has made its ruling, there is no appeal. Although Congress or the President can act to change laws or issue executive orders that would limit the effect of a Supreme Court decision, these laws could again be appealed and struck down.
When the Supreme Court decided that same-sex couples were as entitled to the benefits and privileges of marriage as opposite-sex couples, this ruling invalidated any state laws that prescribed marriage as a contract only between a man and a woman. Although many states are working on rewriting current marriage laws to eliminate gender-specific language, any constitutional amendments or other laws that prohibit same-sex marriage need not be changed, as they are no longer valid.
What are states doing to push back against this ruling?
A number of state governors and attorneys general have argued that the Supreme Court's decision is overreaching and in violation of constitutional law and have vowed to continue the fight against same-sex marriage. Some states are allowing clerks to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, while others are vocally protecting judges and religious figures from being "forced" to perform same-sex marriages. Although these efforts violate the U.S. Constitution and the Supreme Court's recent opinion, and will likely be struck down soon, they are still acting to deny equal protection to a large swath of Americans.
What are your options if you are denied equal protection of the laws?
If you've been denied the right to have a marriage license issued -- when you and your future spouse otherwise qualify for the issuance of a license -- or have had a judge refuse to marry you (when the judge still performs marriages of opposite-sex couples) you have a few legal options.
First, you can simply go to another county (or request another judge). Although some states require a marriage license to be issued in the county in which at least one party resides, others have looser residency requirements, and you may be able to get a marriage license with a minimum of disruption simply by traveling one county away.
In other cases, you may wish to file a civil lawsuit against the party(ies) preventing you from marrying. A higher court should act fairly quickly to ensure that you're able to marry in your home county. In addition, if you can prove you've been financially harmed by the clerk's refusal to issue a marriage license (for example, by having to postpone your wedding date or losing a deposit) you may be able to recover fines and penalties from your county government to help compensate you for these losses.
For the best results, you may want to work with an experienced family lawyer. You can click here for more information about law services in your area.