The Minnesota Court of Appeals [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that a trial court must review a lawsuit challenging a Minnesota law prohibiting gay marriage [Section 517.03 text]. The plaintiffs are three same-sex couples who were married in Canada and had been denied marriage licenses by Minnesota due to a statewide ban on same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive]. Plaintiffs argued [appellate brief, PDF] that Minnesota violated their equal protection rights by refusing to issue them marriage licenses. The appeals remanded the case to the trial court because the trial court had not adequately addressed plaintiffs' equal protection rights as well as a 1971 Minnesota case [Baker v. Nelson, PDF] that upheld the state's ban on same-sex marriage:
The district court failed to address appellants' challenges under the Minnesota Constitution. A proper analysis is necessary especially because the Minnesota rational-basis test for determining whether equal-protection rights have been violated is more stringent than the federal test. Additionally, the supreme court in Baker specifically stated that there was no guidance from decisions from the United States Supreme Court regarding whether the right to marry if a fundamental right of all persons and whether restricting marriage based solely on sex is "irrational and invidiously discriminatory."No date has been set for the ensuing trial in district court.
It remains unclear if the court of appeals' decision to remand the case to the district court will help or hurt the plaintiffs. Phil Duran, the legal director of the gay rights group OutFront Minnesota [official website] declared [press release] that the decision could be a setback for same-sex marriage rights because the case could eventually be decided by the deeply conservative Minnesota Supreme Court. Douglas Benson, one of the plaintiffs in the case, took a more optimistic view, saying that the court of appeals' decision gives the plaintiffs momentum going forward in court [Minneapolis Star Tribune report]. Same-sex marriage is a particularly contentious issue in Minnesota this year, as voters will decide in November whether to accept or reject a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage [HF 1613 text; JURIST report].