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Courts Flooded With Cases Seeking To Overturn Same-Sex Marriage Bans

Since last summer’s Supreme Court showdown in U.S. vs. Windsor, which struck down (5-4) a portion of the Defensive Marriage Act (DOMA), federal courts across the country have been flooded with cases seeking to overturn same-sex marriage bans.

DOMA contains the federal definition of marriage as an institution between one man and one woman and requires federal agencies to recognize legal out-of-state same-sex marriages.

Five states (Texas, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, Michigan) have struck down bans on same-sex marriage since the Supreme Court issued its decision on June 26, 2013. But all of those decisions are stayed pending appeal in the Circuit courts.

Additionally, in February, a Kentucky federal District Court struck down the ban on recognizing same-sex marriages from other states and on Monday, a federal judge ordered Ohio authorities to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples performed in other states.

The actions at the federal level are being echoed within the state courts. In 2013, Hawaii's legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage and New Mexico’s highest court declared it unconstitutional to deny a marriage license to same-sex couples, citing Windsor.

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In December 2013, Utah U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby became the first judge to strike down a state ban on same-sex marriage since Windsor. On Thursday, the 10th Circuit became the first appellate court to weigh in on the same-sex marriage dispute since Windsor. On Thursday, the same panel of judges will consider the Oklahoma’s ruling striking down the same-sex marriage ban. The decisions in those cases would be binding on the states within its jurisdiction: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming.

Next month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit will review the Virginia decision. That decision will be binding in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

In Windsor, the justices struck down the federal government’s definition of marriage as only between a man and a woman, however, the ruling does prohibit states from banning same-sex marriage and it did not instruct the lower federal courts as to how to tackle the state bans. Now, the Circuit Courts are being tasked with the challenge of interpreting the decision.  The 10th Circuit is expected to issue a decision in June.

Since DOMA’s passage in 1996, some 38 states imitated the federal government and passed their own state laws and/or modified their state constitutions in order to deny marriage to same-sex couples. Today, same-sex marriage bans exist in 33 states.