- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A federal judge in South Dakota has ruled the state’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional, but the decision doesn’t mean gay couples can immediately wed.

Some questions and answers about the decision Monday:

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Q: WHAT’S THE GIST OF THE LAWSUIT?

A: Six same-sex couples filed the federal complaint in May in Sioux Falls challenging a 1996 law passed by the Legislature and a voter-approved 2006 constitutional amendment banning gay marriages in South Dakota.

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Q: DOES THE FEDERAL JUDGE’S RULING MEAN THAT SAME-SEX COUPLES CAN NOW OBTAIN A MARRIAGE LICENSE?

A: No. Although U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier asserted in her decision Monday that the plaintiffs “have a fundamental right to marry,” she put on hold her ruling pending a potential appeal from the state.

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Q: SO WHAT’S THE NEXT STEP?

A: Attorney General Marty Jackley said the state will appeal the case to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a conservative-leaning federal appeals court that in 2006 affirmed Nebraska’s right to ban same-sex marriages.

“It remains the state’s position that the institution of marriage should be defined by the voters of South Dakota and not the federal courts,” Jackley said.

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Q: WHAT’S THIS 8TH U.S. CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS?

A: It hears federal appeals cases from seven states, including South Dakota. Eight of the 11 active judges in the court are Republican appointees, while three were appointed by Democratic presidents. It is generally considered more conservative than other circuit courts, said Adam Romero, senior counsel in the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.

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Q: HOW HAVE THESE APPELATE COURTS PREVIOUSLY RULED ON SAME-SEX MARRIAGE CASES?

A: In November, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Cincinnati became the first appellate court to rule in favor of state bans since a Supreme Court decision in 2013 struck part of the federal anti-gay marriage law. Plaintiffs from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee are now asking the court to reverse that decision. Four other appeals courts - based in Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and Richmond, Virginia - have ruled in favor of gay and lesbian couples. Arguments over bans in three Southern states were held last week before a New Orleans-based appellate court.

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Q: WHAT DO THE PLAINTIFFS THINK ABOUT THE POTENTIAL APPEAL?

A: The South Dakota couples’ attorney, Josh Newville, said Monday’s developments were the last chance for the state’s “elected officials to be on the right side of history” by not appealing Schreier’s decision.

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Q: WHAT’S THE STATUS OF SAME-SEX MARRIAGE ACROSS THE U.S.?

A: The District of Columbia and 36 states -including neighboring Minnesota, Iowa, Wyoming and Montana - presently allow gay couples to marry. That’s twice as many as just three months ago.

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Q: WILL THE SUPREME COURT CONSIDER A CASE ADDRESSING THE ISSUE SOON?

A: The U.S. Supreme Court again is considering whether to hear a gay marriage case, and more appeals court rulings - especially if they conflict - could increase the likelihood the justices will do so.

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