A U.S. District Court judge on Friday granted a preliminary injunction — stayed for up to seven days — that would strike down Wyoming’s ban on same-sex marriage, pending an appeal by the state.
Gov. Matt Mead issued a statement late on Friday saying the state will not appeal, which means same-sex marriage will become legal in the state.
Friday’s order in the case Guzzo v. Mead came just 24 hours after a hearing Thursday in Casper. Attorneys for the state said they expected to lose the case but that they also intended to take the matter to a full panel of judges from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The state argued that granting a preliminary injunction would rob it of a chance to build its case to uphold Wyoming Statute 20-1-101 defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
But on Thursday evening, Gov. Matt Mead contradicted those assurances and stated in a gubernatorial debate in Riverton that should U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl rule in favor of the plaintiffs, he would not seek an appeal. On Friday, after the motion was granted under stay, he stood by his statement, saying he would not appeal before Skavdhal’s ruling takes effect.
Before that statement was issued, however, proponents of same-sex marriage were hopeful of the outcome.
“We’re hoping Gov. Mead stands by his word at the debate last night and does not appeal,” Jeran Artery of Wyoming Equality, and a plaintiff in the case, told WyoFile on Thursday afternoon. “I’m optimistic the governor will stand by this (order).”
After 5 p.m. on Friday, Gov. Matt Mead’s office issued a press statement: “The Attorney General, after reviewing the ruling of the federal district court, has advised that an appeal to the very court that ruled these laws unconstitutional, an opinion that the Supreme Court declined to review, would be unlikely to succeed.”
The press release included a quote from Gov. Mead: “This result is contrary to my personal beliefs and those of many others. As in all matters, I respect the role of the courts and the ruling of the Court.”
The state will notify the court that it will not appeal the order, the release said. That notice, when it comes, will result in the end of Wyoming’s ban on same-sex marriage.
How Wyoming got here
The foundation of Wyoming’s ban on same-sex marriage began to crack on Oct. 6 when the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear an appeal of the 10th Circuit’s rulings against Utah and Oklahoma state constitutional bans on same sex marriage. The 10th Circuit declared that marriage is a basic right protected under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, regardless of gender. By SCOTUS not accepting the appeal, it created legal precedence that states in the 10th Circuit’s jurisdiction — which includes Wyoming — may not ban same-sex marriages.
The Mead administration’s immediate response to the Supreme Court action on Oct. 6 was that it had no bearing on the state district court case Courage v. Wyoming — filed by four same-sex couples in March. Mead had stated at the time of the Oct. 6 decision “The Attorney General will continue to defend Wyoming’s constitution defining marriage between a man and a woman.”
However, Wyoming does not have a Defense of Marriage Amendment in its constitution. The definition of marriage Mead referred to then is in Wyoming Statute 20-1-101.
At Thursday’s hearing, attorneys for the state argued that even though it was likely the state would lose in Courage v. Wyoming, the state stood a good chance of winning an appeal in the 10th Circuit.
At the hearing, Judge Skavdahl asked state attorneys if they’d identified differences between Wyoming’s statutory ban on same-sex marriage and states that had lost their appeals in the 10th Circuit. The state’s counsel said they had not, and needed more time to research their argument. Nonetheless, the state would suffer irreparable harm in terms of administrative complications, they said.
In his order on Friday, Judge Skavdahl wrote, “The fact is State Defendants failed to offer even a scintilla of evidence to support their assertion that a preliminary injunction would cause such administrative nightmares. At the preliminary injunction hearing, State Defendants offered no exhibits and called no witnesses to testify. … The record in this case is utterly devoid of anything beyond conjecture or speculation supporting the State Defendant’s claims that the State will suffer a ‘severe impact’ and a ‘profound change to the State’s and the local authorities’ administration of government.’”
Judge Skavdahl also stated in Friday’s order that, “The Court is sympathetic to the mounting irreparable harms faced by Plaintiffs.” However, he wrote that the changes resulting from his ruling are “very serious and deserve as much finality as the Court can guarantee.” Therefore he granted a stay of seven days — until 5 p.m. Oct. 23 — to allow the state to appeal.
“This Court is bound to apply and follow Tenth Circuit precedent unless and until it is overruled by the Tenth Circuit en banc or superseded by a countrary United States Supreme Court decision,” the order states. “Because the harm in this case involves the violation of a constitutional right, it is irreparable. … Preventing the violation of a party’s constitutional rights is always in the public interest.”
Plaintiff Artery had to take time to gather his thoughts and stop his tears before he could talk after Friday’s order. The order, likely, all but shatters Wyoming’s long-standing ban on same-sex marriage, he said.
“It’s still a bit surreal,” he said. “When I got the call from the legal team … it was extremely emotional. It’s a day we worked so hard for, for so long, to finally realize the freedom to marry in Wyoming. I’ve never been prouder to be a Wyomingite. When I think what it means to loving, committed couples to finally have their rights recognized, I’m overwhelmed and humbled.”
Democratic challenger for governor Pete Gosar told WyoFile that he celebrates the U.S. District Court’s decision.
“We’re all a little more equal today,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming. I’m really appreciative of the people who put forth the effort and put their lives on hold. So it’s a great day for Wyoming.”
— WyoFile reporter Gregory Nickerson contributed to this story.
For background, read these WyoFile reports:Q&A: Al Simpson on same-sex marriage in the Equality State, October 17, 2014. Judge will rule by 5 p.m. Monday on same-sex marriage in Wyoming, October 16, 2014. Wyoming’s stalemate on same-sex marriage may break this week, October 14, 2014. Wyoming same-sex marriage case rests on state constitution, April 8, 2014. Bills aimed at LGBT equality fail, yet proponents see progress, urge civility, January 29, 2013.