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Judge signals Arizona gay marriage ban could fall

gThe federal judge considering challenges to Arizona’s same-sex marriage ban says the outcome appears to be dictated by an appellate court’s ruling overturning bans in two other states.

U.S. District Judge John Sedwick said in an order issued Thursday that the sides in one of the Arizona cases may submit briefs discussing the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that said gay marriage prohibitions in Nevada and Idaho violate equal protection rights of same-sex couples.

Arizona is part of the 9th Circuit, and Sedwick said the appellate court’s ruling in the other states apparently “controls the outcome” of the Arizona case.

The 9th Circuit’s ruling “appears to require” that Sedwick allow gay couples to marry, the judge said in a one-paragraph order. He gave the sides a week to file responses.

William Knight, a lawyer representing gay couples, said their brief will be simple: “It’s clear that the law compels the court at this point to rule in favor of marriage equality.”

Stephanie Grisham, spokeswoman for Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, said the state also will file a brief in response to the judge’s invitation. She declined to discuss what it would say.

The state in its June 11 motion argued that it would demean the democratic process to overturn Arizona voters’ 2008 decision adding the ban to the Arizona Constitution.

Sedwick in a September ruling had already signaled that Arizona’s ban might not hold up to a constitutional challenge.

In a ruling in the other pending challenge to Arizona’s gay marriage ban, Sedwick said the surviving spouse of a plaintiff who had died could be listed on the death certificate.

“The court has not yet decided whether there is a conflict between Arizona law and the Constitution, but the court has decided that it is probable that there is such a conflict that Arizona will be required to permit same-sex marriages,” Sedwick wrote in the Sept. 12 ruling.

Both Arizona challenges were filed this year, but several months apart and legal briefing of the one involving the order Thursday is further along procedurally than the other.

Sedwick was nominated to the federal bench in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush.

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