Rich-Vaughn-Blog-SCOTUS-MarriageEquality

Will 2015 Bring Supreme Court Ruling on Gay Marriage?

Proponents of marriage equality have a lot to celebrate as we near the beginning of a new year. Since January 1, 2014, courts in 20 states have overturned bans on same-sex marriage, for a total of 35 states where marriage equality is the law of the land—63.45% of the U.S. population, according to advocacy organization Marriage Equality USA.

Still, in many parts of the country, LGBT people and their families don’t have the legal recognition of marriage and, even in some cases where courts have overturned bans, local officials continue to stonewall or have obtained stays. The result: confusion, complexity, frustration and heartache for thousands of couples, their children, families and friends.

One such scenario is still playing out in Missouri. In June the city clerk of St. Louis, Missouri, effectively challenged Missouri’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage by issuing four marriage licenses. Although she agreed to stop issuing marriage licenses, the clerk asked the court for a declaration authorizing same-sex couples to marry in Missouri. On November 5 Circuit Judge Rex Burlison granted her request, declaring the state's ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional and ordering registrars to start issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples. However, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, citing the need to defend Missouri voters’ right to define marriage, MSNBC reported.

Meanwhile Missouri had already started recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states following an October ruling by Jackson County Circuit Judge J. Dale Youngs, according to The Kansas City Star. Republican state legislators attempted to appeal Youngs’ ruling to the state Supreme Court; on Dec. 11 Youngs denied the state legislators’ motion, saying time had run out and the case is no longer under his jurisdiction.

Once source of confusion is whether a federal ruling in one state is binding on other states within the same circuit, as many legal experts have claimed. Writing for Jurist, Topeka law professor Jeffrey D. Jackson, argues those rulings are not binding in states where same-sex marriage bans have not been challenged. For example, in October, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari—refused to hear—seven cases from the Fourth, Seventh and Tenth Circuits in which same-sex marriage bans had been overturned, leaving the lower court rulings to stand. But in Kansas, located in the Tenth Circuit, the ban on same-sex marriage had not been challenged in federal court.

Jackson writes, “Unlike decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court, decisions of a federal circuit court are not binding on the constitutionality of state laws that are not at issue in the case.

“Thus, even though Kansas's law was almost indistinguishable from the laws that the Tenth Circuit had struck down in Utah and Oklahoma, and therefore would almost certainly meet the same result were it challenged in federal court, the fact remained that it had not been. Therefore, it remained the law of the state.”

In Kansas, Jackson continues, the result was confusion and disappointment. Early news reports indicated that all the Utah and Oklahoma rulings meant that Kansas same-sex couples could now legally marry. Some tried and were turned away. The chief judge of the Tenth Judicial District, in an attempt to provide clarity, issued an administrative order instructing officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Fifty-one applications for marriage licenses for same-sex couples were approved and one same-sex marriage took place before the Kansas Supreme Court issued a temporary stay on same-sex marriages. Two couples who were denied marriage licenses sued in Kansas federal district court. The federal district court issued a preliminary injunction allowing same-sex marriage on the grounds that the plaintiffs probably would prevail in the Tenth Circuit, but then stayed its ruling until November 11 to allow the other side to appeal. The Tenth Circuit appeals court denied the stay, and the defendants took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted a temporary stay, only to lift it two days later. On Nov. 18 the Kansas Supreme Court followed suit, lifting its stay.

Gay marriage proponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union, declared victory, claiming the matter was now settled, same-sex marriage now legal in the state of Kansas. But the issue remains in legal limbo, Jackson writes. “While a declaration that Kansas's ban is unconstitutional would indeed have to be followed, no such declaration currently exists. Rather, the preliminary injunction extends only to the defendants in the federal district court case, and enjoins only them from enforcing or applying the bans.”

The upshot: As of November 20, “approximately 24 of Kansas's 105 counties have decided to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples.” Under state law, same-sex couples now can get married anywhere in Kansas, but they may have to obtain their license from a different county. Moreover the “validity and effect of those marriage” remains in question, Jackson writes.

“Because there has been no definitive federal or state ruling on the constitutionality of the Kansas ban, the state has continued to enforce the ban where not prohibited by the injunction. The state has taken the position that it will not otherwise recognize those marriages for purpose of benefits such as name changes or employee benefits. Until there is a final determination, it is not clear whether any of the marriages entered into so far are valid. While it would seem inconceivable that a final decision, whether at the district court, Tenth Circuit, or U.S. Supreme Court, would uphold Kansas's ban at this point, the matter is still up in the air.”

The resulting confusion and worry for same-sex couples in Kansas and their families is a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s reluctance to rule definitively on the constitutionality of denying same-sex couples the right to marry, Jackson claims.

As we celebrate the remarkable progress we made toward marriage equality and legal recognition of all families in 2014, we hope the Supreme Court justices will keep in mind that, while there may be a valid argument for waiting to make sure judicial rulings are aligned with the hearts and minds of the majority of Americans, real people suffer from lack of legal clarity and unevenly applied law. The events of 2014 make it clear that marriage equality is inevitable in the United States; in 2015 it will be time for the U.S. Supreme Court to make it official.

Rich Vaughn
Richard Vaughn
rich@iflg.net

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
PEIYA WANG(王培娅)
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya received her bachelor’s degree from Beijing Technologies and Business University, where she majored in Marketing. She moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeast University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015 and received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Luis Sosa
LUIS SOSA
Paralegal

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes
TONI HUGES
Paralegal

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”

Miesha Cowart
MIESHA COWART
Financial Coordinator

Miesha Cowart joined IFLG as a financial specialist in 2014 following a successful career in development and business finance. Miesha previously worked for 10 years in the construction industry as a controller and for 13 years as Development Coordinator for the non-profit U.S. Fund for UNICEF. In her free time, Miesha works with “Next Generation” at her church. “They are my heartbeats!” she says of the youth in her community.

Kim
KIM DEVEREAUX
Paralegal

Kim has over 25 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager of surrogacy and egg donation cases, and is also responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn
RICHARD B. VAUGHN
Founder

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, thoughtful and compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law. He is immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, which develops model legislation governing assisted reproductive services, and is a popular presenter to law students, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo
ELIZABETH TAMAYO
Paralegal

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Tania Steele
TANIA STEELE
Legal Assistant

Tania Steele joined IFLG as a legal assistant in early 2016 and has since been immersed in the complexities of assisted reproductive technology law. Tania received her Bachelor of Arts degree at Chapman University in Orange, California, and a graduate degree from University of Leicester in England, where she pursued an interest in art. In 2013, she accepted a volunteer position at Legal Aid Society of Orange County, where she helped with the intake of new clients and was inspired to obtain a paralegal certificate from Fullerton College. As an undergraduate, Tania lived in Italy and studied the Italian language. She is fluent in English, Spanish and Italian and enjoys assisting as a translator for many of IFLG’s international clients. Outside of the office, Tania enjoys concerts, films, reading and travel.

Linda Garrett
LINDA GARRETT
Legal Assistant

Linda Garrett graduated in 2010 from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, with a major in Sociology. Shortly after, she enrolled in a paralegal course at West Los Angeles College, where she fell in love with the field. In 2017, she earned her paralegal degree and joined International Fertility Law Group as a Legal Assistant. In her free time, Linda enjoys outdoor adventures and spending time with her nieces and nephews.

Sunny Chien
SUNNY CHIEN
Paralegal

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.