WASHINGTON — A federal judge in South Dakota added her voice to the chorus of judges ruling over the past 13 months that bans on same-sex couples' marriages violate the Constitution.
"Plaintiffs have a fundamental right to marry. South Dakota law deprives them of that right solely because they are same-sex couples and without sufficient justification," U.S. District Court Judge Karen Schreier wrote on Monday.
The ruling is stayed, or on hold, pending any appeal from the state. "Because this case presents substantial and novel legal questions, and because there is a substantial public interest in uniformity and stability of the law, this court stays its judgment pending appeal," she wrote in the judgment for the case.
In a statement, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley suggested that an appeal is forthcoming, saying, "It remains the State's position that the institution of marriage should be defined by the voters of South Dakota and not the federal courts. Because this case presents substantial legal questions and substantial public interest the Federal Court has stayed its judgment allowing South Dakota law to remain in effect pending the appeal."
Lawyers for the same-sex couples challenging the ban, however, told BuzzFeed News that they also will challenge the stay should South Dakota officials appeal the ruling.
"The Supreme Court and federal appellate courts have not been kind to these stays in recent months," lawyer Joshua Newville said. Because of the fact that other decisions have not been stayed pending appeal, National Center for Lesbian Rights lawyer Shannon Minter added, "It seems unfair that couples in South Dakota would have to wait."
In deciding whether the state's ban violates a fundamental right — here, the right to marry — Schreier rejected "defendants' argument that the court should limit the fundamental right to marriage based on the traditional understanding of that right," in other words, limited only to opposite-sex couples, instead concluding that such a view "is contrary to Supreme Court precedent."
As to whether the ban violates equal protection guarantees, Schreier found that the infringement of a fundamental right in connection with a claimed equal protection violation effectively controlled the question and meant that the ban violated equal protection as well.
"For reasons stated with respect to plaintiffs' due process claim, South Dakota's same-sex marriage ban deprives same-sex citizens of a fundamental right, and that classification is not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest," Shreier wrote, in finding that equal protection guarantees were violated as well.
Schreier was nominated to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 1999.