This week, the US government requested that a federal appeals court hasten its review of a San Francisco gay rights case relating to the Defence of Marriage Act and consider harsher scrutiny for discriminatory laws around sexual orientation, including a standard that could legalise same-sex marriage.
The request was made to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considering the constitutionality of the Defence of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that denies federal benefits to same-sex married couples.
Last month, US District Judge Jeffrey White declared the law unconstitutional, ordering the government to allow Karen Golinski, a federal court attorney in San Francisco, to enroll her wife in a federal family insurance plan.
However, lawyers for House Republican leaders – who defended the law – have contested Judge White’s ruling to a panel at the Ninth Circuit. But President Obama’s Justice Department requested that the appeals court forgo said panel – consisting of three judges – and instead convene an 11-judge panel.
This would speed up the case and allow the court to set a more stringent standard for laws that prevent equality. Ideally, these actions could lead to the repeal of the circuit’s 1990 ruling, which has allowed said laws to be upheld if they can be in any way justified.
If a stricter standard was agreed upon, as befits the ones used to examine laws based on race or gender, the possibility of future rulings declaring a right to same-sex marriage would be much stronger. California’s Proposition 8, which made such marriages illegal in 2008, was itself abolished by a Ninth Circuit panel last month. However, sponsors of the initiative are now seeking review from an 11-judge panel.
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