Lambda Legal Reacts to Nevada AG Statement Regarding Lawsuit Challenging State Marriage Ban

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January 25, 2014

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto late yesterday issued a statement declaring that her office was reconsidering the State’s arguments in Lambda Legal’s lawsuit challenging Nevada’s discriminatory marriage ban, Sevcik v. Sandoval, in light of the recent U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in GlaxoSmithKline v. Abbott Laboratories.

Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Tara Borelli said:

While we are confident that Nevada’s discriminatory marriage ban would be found unconstitutional under any level of scrutiny, it is even clearer after the GlaxoSmithKline v. Abbott Laboratories decision. The Ninth Circuit ruling in the GlaxoSmithKline case is a game-changer and cannot help but compel reconsideration of all arguments supporting discriminatory marriage bans such as Nevada’s.

We have long argued that discriminatory classifications based upon sexual orientation must at least meet the same standard of review as those based upon sex– they should be presumed to be unconstitutional. In the GlaxoSmithKline decision the Ninth Circuit has agreed, ruling that heightened judicial scrutiny must be applied to such discriminatory classifications. We are glad the Nevada Attorney General is reconsidering the issue.

In Sevcik v. Sandoval, Lambda Legal, joined by pro bono co-counsel from O’Melveny & Myers LLP and Snell & Wilmer LLP, represents eight same-sex couples challenging Nevada’s law banning marriage for same-sex couples. The lawsuit argues that barring same-sex couples from marriage violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. A U.S. District Court judge granted Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit in November 2012, and Lambda Legal appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit. The State submitted its brief supporting the marriage ban to the Ninth Circuit on the same day as the Court’s ruling in GlaxoSmithKline.

In her statement announcing her office was reconsidering its arguments, Nevada Attorney General Masto said the GlaxoSmithKline ruling “appears to impact the equal protection and due process arguments made on behalf of the State” and that “(a)fter careful review of the … decision these arguments are likely no longer tenable in the Ninth Circuit.”

The lead plaintiffs in the case are Beverly Sevcik and Mary Baranovich of Carson City, who have been together more than 40 years, raised three children together, and are now the proud grandmothers of four grandchildren.  The other plaintiffs are: Antioco Carrillo and Theo Small of Las Vegas, who have been together since 2006; Fletcher Whitwell and Greg Flamer of Las Vegas, who have been together for more than 15 years and adopted a baby girl together; Karen Goody and Karen Vibe of Reno, who have been engaged since 2005; Mikyla and Katie Miller of Reno, who are raising two children; Adele Terranova and Tara Newberry of Las Vegas, who are raising two children; Caren and Farrell Cafferata-Jenkins of Carson City, who have been together for more than 16 years and are raising two sons; and Megan Lanz and Sara Geiger of Las Vegas, who have been together since 2005 and have a daughter.

The case is Sevcik v. Sandoval and information about the case is available here. Information about GlaxoSmithKline v. Abbott Laboratories, in which Lambda Legal submitted a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Ninth Circuit to apply the heightened scrutiny standard to discriminatory classifications based upon sexual orientation, is available here.

Lambda Legal attorneys Jon Davidson, Tara Borelli and Peter Renn are handling the case, joined by Carla Christofferson, Dawn Sestito, Dimitri Portnoi, Melanie Cristol and Rahi Azizi of O’Melveny & Myers, and Kelly Dove, Marek Bute and Andrew Jacobs of Snell & Wilmer.

Read the press release.