Lambda Legal Applauds Nevada Governor’s Request to Withdraw Brief Defending State Marriage Ban

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February 10, 2014
Lambda Legal clients Mary Baranovich and Beverly Sevcik.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval today sought leave to withdraw the brief submitted on his behalf by Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit defending the state’s discriminatory marriage ban in Lambda Legal’s lawsuit challenging the ban, Sevcik v. Sandoval.

Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Tara Borelli said:

In the wake of the Ninth Circuit ruling in SmithKline Beecham v. Abbott Laboratories, the Governor has recognized that the writing is on the wall, and that arguments seeking to perpetuate discrimination are becoming extremely difficult to justify. Denying marriage to same-sex couples serves no legitimate state interest and is intended solely to perpetuate discrimination. As the Governor himself recognized, the heightened scrutiny standard that the Ninth Circuit’s SmithKline ruling now requires be applied to discriminatory classifications based on sexual orientation renders arguments supporting the marriage ban no longer tenable, and the Governor frankly made the only call he could.

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 SmithKline.

Gov. Sandoval’s request to withdraw his brief defending the marriage ban follows the earlier decision by Carson City Clerk-Recorder Alan Glover to withdraw his brief, also motivated by the Ninth Circuit ruling in SmithKline. These decisions leave only the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, which the U.S. District Court had allowed to intervene, defending the marriage ban.

In SmithKline Beecham v. Abbott Laboratories, the Ninth Circuit ruled that discriminatory classifications based upon sexual orientation must receive heightened scrutiny and should be presumed unconstitutional. The heightened scrutiny standard is much tougher to meet and rendered the state of Nevada’s arguments in its original brief defending the marriage ban “no longer tenable in the Ninth Circuit,” as Nevada’s Attorney General conceded in a statement released last week.

The lead plaintiffs in Sevcik v. Sandoval 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.

Learn more about the case.

Read the governor’s brief.

Read the press release.