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Supreme Court declines to take up two more gay rights cases

Chase Hardin (L) and Sam Knode (2nd L) join gay marriage supporters and court watchers hoping for U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the cases ag
Chase Hardin (L) and Sam Knode (2nd L) join gay marriage supporters and court watchers hoping for U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the cases ag

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A day after deciding two major cases on gay marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court declined on Thursday to take up two more cases on the issue.

The cases concerned Nevada's ban on same-sex marriage, and an Arizona law that denies state benefits to domestic partners.

The court, which rejects the vast majority of cases that come before it, declined to hear the cases without comment.

The action means an appeals court ruling striking down the Arizona law stays in effect, while litigation over the Nevada law will continue.

The cases, submitted months ago, were likely on hold while the court considered the other two cases it decided Wednesday. In those rulings, the justices struck down a part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to same-sex married couples and avoided deciding the constitutionality of a 2008 California law that banned gay marriage.

The Arizona case concerns a law that limits health benefits to employees' spouses and dependents, thereby excluding domestic partners, including those in same-sex relationships. Gay marriage is not recognized in Arizona.

Before the law was enacted via a ballot initiative in November 2008, the state had for several months allowed same-sex domestic partners to receive health benefits.

Gay and lesbian state employees sued before the new law was due to go into effect in January 2011, saying it violated their equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution.

A federal district court issued a preliminary injunction preventing the law from taking effect. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in September 2011, prompting the state's appeal to the high court.

In the other case, supporters of Nevada's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage asked the Supreme Court to rule definitively that states could limit the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples.

The case arose when eight same-sex couples tried to get married in Nevada or asked the state to recognize their out-of-state marriages. A federal court dismissed their claim. The case is pending before an appeals court, but supporters of the ban asked the Supreme Court to take an early look at the issue.

The Arizona case is Brewer v. Diaz, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-33. The Nevada case is Coalition for the Protection of Marriage v. Sevick, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-689.

(Editing by Howard Goller and Doina Chiacu)

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