A lawsuit challenging Minnesota’s statutory ban on same-sex marriage that was previously thrown out by a lower court has been given the go ahead after a state Court of Appeals ruling on Monday overturned the dismissal by a Hennepin County judge and sent the issue back to District Court.
In the 15-page decision released on Monday that partly approved and partly reversed the trial court decision, the Court of Appeals ruled that DuFresne improperly relied on the Baker case. Since Baker, Judge Renee Worke wrote, the U.S. Supreme Court has indicated that “moral disapproval of a class because of sexual orientation cannot be a legitimate government purpose that equal protection requires.”
The couples should be granted a chance in District Court to prove that their rights were violated, she concluded.
“Even if the right to marry is not considered a fundamental right, appellants should have been granted an opportunity to show that MN DOMA is not a reasonable means to its stated objective — to promote opposite-sex marriages to encourage procreation,” Worke wrote.
The case was dismissed by District Judge Mary DuFresne last March. She cited Baker vs. Nelson, a 1971 Minnesota Supreme Court decision saying that it is not unconstitutional to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples.
The plaintiffs in the case are Duan Gajewski and Doug Benson, Lindzi Campbell and Jessica Dykhuis, and Tom Trisko and John Rittman. They contend that the state’s statutory ban on same-sex marriage leads to actual harms that pervade their lives through denial of benefits and lack of recognition for their families.
This is a positive of course, but there have been some concerns expressed over this case that center not on its aims but its timing.
The state’s current Supreme Court is perceived as conservative and some LGBT rights groups in the state have predicted they will fall back on the 1971 case to dismiss the suit. Of course, there is never an overtly favorable time to challenge discrimination and so this perhaps does not overly concern.
However, one other worry is that this case may in fact galvinize foes of marriage equality and give them more ammunition to support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in the state. A ballot on codifying the state’s existing gay marriage ban will be held in May and it appears that the spin has already started, with anti-gay marriage group Minnesota for Marriage saying in a press release:
“The fact that three judges of our court of appeals concluded that there might not be even one reasonable basis for limiting marriage to one man and one woman should be a wake-up call to Minnesotans who believe that our marriage laws are safe. The only way for Minnesotans to ensure that an activist judge doesn’t decide to redefine marriage is to put our historic definition of marriage in our state constitution, beyond the reach of state judges and politicians,” said Adkins.
“Without the Marriage Protection Amendment, marriage will always be just one court ruling away from being redefined. Every day we’re vulnerable to lawsuits seeking to change marriage by transforming it into a system of love licenses, or eliminating it altogether. We urge Minnesotans to support the amendment to preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
Recent polls suggest Minnesotans remain split on the constitutional amendment.