A federal appeals court has ruled that Washington’s “no backs” law is unconstitutional, but some Democrats are worried that it won’t be the last attempt to end the federal government’s prohibition on same-sex marriage.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a unanimous decision Friday that said the state law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees the right to equal protection under the law.
The court said the law prohibits state officials from refusing to provide benefits to same-gender couples, and it imposes a burden on marriage equality.
“As long as the government seeks to create new and substantially burdensome burdens for people seeking to marry, the federal constitution cannot guarantee equal protection of the laws,” Chief Judge Michael P. Callahan wrote in the majority opinion.
“The law must be invalidated.”
The court did not address the validity of the state’s other laws banning gay marriage.
A similar lawsuit filed in June by Washington’s state attorney general is pending before the U.N. Human Rights Council.
It is also being appealed to the U-S Supreme Court.
The federal court’s ruling, if upheld, could set a precedent for future attempts by the government to force states to recognize same-bed marriages.
The ruling also will set a dangerous precedent, with the court finding the law unconstitutional because it creates an unconstitutional “federal ban on same sex marriage.”
That is a broad statement of the law’s purposes, and the court’s majority opinion makes clear that the law is aimed at making a blanket ban on gay marriage impossible.
“It is a ban on marriage between a man and a woman,” Callahan said.
“It is not a ban for the purpose of allowing for a single legal definition of marriage.”
In a separate case, a federal judge in Colorado has ruled against a ban that requires businesses to offer same-day delivery of food, beverages and other items to gay and lesbian couples.
The state of Colorado is appealing a judge’s ruling that the measure is unconstitutional because gay and transgender people don’t qualify for food stamps.
The state’s attorney general, however, said Friday that he expects the appeals court to agree with that ruling.
In the case of Washington, the state government’s “marriage” law, the appeals panel ruled that it violates the “fundamental equal protection clause” of the 14th Amendment.
“We conclude that the state has demonstrated that it cannot establish a rational basis for denying benefits to married same-aged couples, nor can it demonstrate that it is burdening the state or its taxpayers to deny benefits to unmarried same-age couples,” Judge Callahan and the three-judge panel wrote.
The appeals court added that “the benefits to be denied under the state-recognized marriage law are not disproportionately impacted by the number of same-ages couples in Washington.”
Same-sex couples in the state of Washington married in 2015.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.