Supporters and foes of a same-sex marriage lawsuit playing out in federal court here finally found a point of agreement: They don't want the case expanded to decide if there's a constitutional right to marry an inanimate object.
Attorneys for both sides filed a joint motion asking U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick to reject the motion to intervene filed by Chris Sevier. They said the issues they are litigating — the rights of same-sex couples to marry and the rights of survivors of same-sex relationships — has nothing to do with whether Sevier can marry a pillow or even an animal.
What that means, the lawyers told Sedwick, is that the outcome of this lawsuit won't affect Sevier's rights.
But Sevier, a lawyer whose right to practice was suspended in Tennessee, said his rights are precisely at issue. He said it would be wrong to have a federal court decide whether to expand the definition of marriage without looking at all options.
“If this is a case to advance tolerance and equality, then my presence allows this to actually occur,” he wrote in his filings. And he said that questions of rights of people based on their “sexual orientation” should be expanded to all possibilities.
Central to the fight playing out in federal court is whether Arizona's law and voter-approved state constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman violates the equal protection rights of gays. The lawsuits — there actually are two of them — also contend the ban violates the due process rights of individuals.
Plaintiffs represented by Lamba Legal and Educational Foundation fall into three categories: Those who want to marry but cannot, those legally married in other states who cannot have their union recognized in Arizona, and those married elsewhere in cases where one partner died but the other was not recognized as a surviving spouse.
Sevier said there is no reason to limit the legal issues to gays, any more than civil rights lawsuits could be limited to the rights of blacks but not other races. He argued his sexual orientation is entitled to as much protection as anyone else.
But Sevier brushed aside questions about the validity of the comparisons — including the issue of whether an animal or an inanimate object could give the kind of legal consent necessary to wed.
“I would submit that perhaps a dog could indicate consent if they would want to be with the person that owns the dog,” he said. Sevier had no answer to questions of objects.
In asking Sedwick to toss out Sevier's request, the lawyers for both Lamba Legal and the state noted he had made a similar request in a Utah case, only to have that rebuffed.
That, however, is only part of the picture. Sevier acknowledged he previously tried to get a court in Florida to give him permission to marry his computer, calling it his “preferred sexual object.” But Sevier insisted that this motion in Arizona and others are not an effort to derail legal attempts by gays to wed.
Sevier, who got a law degree from Vanderbilt University, admitted to having his license to practice law stripped in Tennessee, with the Supreme Court there ruling in 2011 that he is “incapacitated from continuing to practice law by reason of mental infirmity or illness.” Sevier said he suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result of service in Iraq.
Judge Sedwick gave no indication when he will rule.