By Julie Westfall and James Queally
Same-sex couples in Arizona, Wyoming and Alaska will all be free to obtain marriage licenses by next week after federal judges struck down bans in two of those states Friday and the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request for a further stay in Alaska.
U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick struck down Arizona's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage early Friday morning, and state Atty. Gen. Tom Horne later told reporters he would not appeal the ruling, meaning marriages could begin immediately.
"It would be unethical for me to file an appeal that would have no chance of success," he said.
Ten same-sex couples in Maricopa County were expected to be the first to receive their marriage licenses in Arizona on Friday, Horne said.
Hours later, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl in Wyoming overturned that state's ban, citing a June ruling by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld a decision to overturn Utah's ban on same-sex marriages.
Skavdahl stayed his own order until Oct. 23.
It was not immediately clear if Wyoming officials would appeal. A spokesperson for Atty. Gen. Peter Michael was not immediately available for comment.
Wyoming's Republican Gov. Matt Mead, who is seeking reelection, said in a Thursday debate that he saw no purpose to appealing the 10th Circuit ruling.
Carl Tobias, a constitutional law professor at the University of Richmond, told the Los Angeles Times that Skavdahl's ruling left little room for a challenge.
"The district judge in Wyoming said he was bound by the 10th Circuit rulings out of Utah and Oklahoma, so that would seem like a pretty fruitless appeal, to the 10th Circuit," Tobias said.
The U.S. Supreme Court also cleared a path for same-sex couples in Alaska to marry after it refused to extend a stay of a lower court ruling that overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriage.
Alaska's gay marriage ban was one of several struck down by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this week, but a federal judge also issued an order last week barring the state from enforcing its same-sex marriage ban last week. Alaska's ban was approved by voters in 1998.
While most state offices were closed Friday in observance of Alaska Day, couples could begin to marry as early as Monday, according to the Alaska Dispatch.
While he declined to appeal, Horne said that he and Arizona's Republican Gov. Jan Brewer both strongly disagreed with the judge's ruling.
"I think this was a decision that should be made by the voters and not the judges," he said. "But the judges ruled against us."
Proposition 102, which legally defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman in Arizona, passed in 2008 with the support of 56% of state voters.
Sedwick's ruling marked the second time this week a federal judge struck down a measure that had previously gained approval from Arizona voters. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Arizona's Proposition 100, which denied bail to people who are in the country illegally when they are charged with serious felonies. That measure had passed in 2006 with the support of nearly 80% of Arizona's voters.
The number of states prohibiting same-sex marriage was expected to drop considerably following the Supreme Court's refusal to take up appeals on the issue earlier this month, and expectations have been fulfilled.
In his relatively short opinion, Sedwick heavily cited the 9th Circuit's decision, saying when the case was brought to the court, the law was not clear, but now it is.
"The Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit recently ruled that substantially identical provisions of Nevada and Idaho law that prohibit same-sex marriages are invalid because they deny same-sex couples equal protection of the law, the right to which is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. This court is bound by decisions of the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit," he wrote.
Furthermore, Sedwick wrote that that an appeal to the circuit court would not be successful and "the High Court will turn a deaf ear on any request for relief from the 9th Circuit's decision."
"Today's ruling brings security to thousands of families in Arizona. It's a moment to be celebrated. Equal protection of the law is one of the fundamental principles that allows our country to thrive and evolve," Alessandra Soler, executive director of the Arizona ACLU, said in a statement.
Times staff writer David Savage contributed to this report.
(c)2014 the Los Angeles Times