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Guzzo v. Mead

United States District Court, D. Wyoming

October 17, 2014

ANNE MARIE GUZZO and BONNIE ROBINSON; IVAN WILLIAMS and CHARLES KILLION; BRIE BARTH and SHELLY MONTGOMERY; CARL OLESON and ROB JOHNSTON; and WYOMING EQUALITY; Plaintiffs,
v.
MATTHEW H. MEAD, in his official capacity as the Governor of Wyoming; DEAN FAUSSET, in his official capacity as Director of the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information; DAVE URQUIDEZ, in his official capacity as Administrator of the State of Wyoming Human Resources Division; and DEBRA K. LATHROP, in her official capacity as Laramie County Clerk; Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION AND TEMPORARY STAY

SCOTT W. SKAVDAHL, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order. (Doc. 7.) Defendant Debra K. Lathrop filed an affidavit supporting Plaintiffs' motion. (Doc. 7-1.) The remaining defendants ("State Defendants") filed an opposition to the motion. (Doc. 26.) The Court held an evidentiary hearing on the matter on October 16, 2014. Having considered the evidence and testimony presented at the hearing, the parties' briefs, the arguments of counsel, the record herein, and being otherwise fully advised, the Court finds and concludes as follows.

BACKGROUND

This case asks whether a Wyoming statute limiting marriage to "between a male and a female person" can withstand scrutiny under the due process and equal protection guarantees of the United States Constitution. While few issues are riper for public debate and legislative action than same-sex marriage, as demonstrated by the 11 states that have approved it through state legislation or popular vote since 2009 ( United States v. Windsor, 133 S.Ct. 2675, 2689 (2013)), a divided three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has "place[d] the matter outside the arena of public debate and legislative action" ( Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 720 (1997)). While the Tenth Circuit's decisions in Kitchen v. Herbert, 755 F.3d 1193 (10th Cir. 2014), and Bishop v. Smith, 760 F.3d 1070 (10th Cir.2014), may be publicly debated, one thing remains undebatable: "[A] district court is bound by decisions made by its circuit court." Dobbs v. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, 600 F.3d 1275, 1279 (10th Cir. 1990). Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit's decisions in Kitchen and Bishop demand a determination in Plaintiffs' favor.

1. The Parties

Plaintiffs consist of three groups: (1) same-sex couples who have been denied a marriage license in Wyoming solely because of their same genders, (2) a same-sex couple who was married in Canada but has been unable to have it given legal effect in Wyoming, and (3) a civil rights organization advocating for Wyoming's LGBT community. (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 25-27.)

State Defendants include (1) the Governor of Wyoming, (2) the Director of the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information, and (3) the Administrator of the State of Wyoming Human Resources Division, all sued in their official capacities. ( Id. at ¶¶ 28-30.) Defendant Lathrop is the elected county clerk of Laramie County, Wyoming, whose legal duties include issuing marriage licenses. ( Id. at ¶ 31.) While she is a named defendant, Defendant Lathrop agrees with Plaintiffs' position and joins their request for relief (Doc. 7-1.)

2. Wyoming Statutes at Issue

Wyoming's statutes define marriage as "a civil contract between a male and a female person to which the consent of the parties capable of contracting is essential." Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 20-1-101 (2013). Plaintiffs assert this statute is unconstitutional under Kitchen and Bishop.

Also at issue is Wyoming Statute § 20-1-111, which states, "All marriage contracts which are valid by the laws of the country in which contracted are valid in this state." Plaintiffs argue same-sex marriages that are valid under the laws of other states and other countries are not given effect in Wyoming, despite the clear language of this statute.

Plaintiffs' civil rights action for declaratory and injunctive relief, filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeks to declare § 20-1-101 invalid under the United States Constitution. Plaintiffs allege Wyoming's prohibition on same-sex marriage violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the federal constitution.

Several of the Plaintiffs in this case filed an earlier, similar action in Wyoming state court on March 5, 2014, in Courage v. State of Wyoming, Laramie County District Court Docket Number 182-262. In that action, the plaintiffs contend Wyoming Statute § 20-1-101 is unconstitutional because it violates the Wyoming Constitution.

3. Kitchen v. Herbert and Bishop v. Smith Summaries

The parties and the Court agree the Tenth Circuit decisions in Kitchen and Bishop control the merits of this case. In Kitchen, several same-sex couples challenged Utah's state statute and state constitutional amendment that restricted marriage to opposite-sex couples. Kitchen, 755 F.3d at 1199-1200. After finding the plaintiffs had standing to sue the defendants, id. at 1201-04, the Tenth Circuit determined the fundamental right to marry includes the right to marry a person of the same sex, id. at 1218. Having determined a fundamental liberty was at stake, the Tenth Circuit then examined the challenged state laws under strict scrutiny and found they could not pass constitutional muster. Id. at 1218-28. The Court held that "under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution, those who wish to marry a person of the same sex are entitled to exercise the same fundamental right as is recognized for persons who wish to marry a person of the opposite sex." Id. at 1229-30.

Similarly, in Bishop, several same-sex couples challenged Oklahoma's state constitutional amendment limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples. Bishop, 760 F.3d at 1074-75. The Tenth Circuit found the plaintiffs had sufficient standing to sue, id. at 1076-1079, and determined the merits of the appeal were controlled by its decision in Kitchen, id. at 1079. The Tenth Circuit stated that none of the arguments presented in Bishop "persuade us to veer from our core holding that states may not, consistent with the United States Constitution, prohibit same-sex marriages." Id. at 1082.

DISCUSSION

With this backdrop in place, the Court turns to the issues that must be considered in determining whether a preliminary injunction in Plaintiffs' favor is warranted.

1. Standing

State Defendants contend Plaintiffs lack standing in this lawsuit, at least as against State Defendants. (Doc. 26 at p. 5.) The Court first examines the issue of standing because it is a component of the Court's jurisdiction. Dias v. ...


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