Tennessee Plaintiffs Appeal Sixth Circuit Ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court

Today National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), attorneys Abby Rubenfeld, Maureen Holland, and Regina Lambert, and the law firms of Sherrard & Roe PLC and Ropes & Gray LLP requested the Supreme Court of the United States hear their case.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned lower court rulings that struck down state marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.  This was the first time a federal appeals court ruled against marriage equality after four other federal appeals courts upheld district court rulings that the bans are unconstitutional.

“The court of appeals’ holding not only denies recognition to petitioners’ own marriages and families, but also establishes a “checkerboard” nation in which same-sex couples’ marriages are dissolved and reestablished as they travel across the country,” the plaintiff couples stated in the request. “That is the antithesis of the stability that marriage is supposed to afford.”

Earlier today, Lambda Legal, the ACLU and private firm Gerhardstein & Branch also petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States for a writ of certiorari, the formal request that the Court review its cases challenging Ohio’s constitutional ban on marriage equality.

Source: HRC Blog, “Tennessee Plaintiffs Appeal Sixth Circuit Ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court,” November 14, 2014 by Maureen McCarty, HRC Associate Director of Digital Media

A look at how courts differ on gay marriage

Rev. Katie Hotze-Wilton signs a Missouri marriage license after performing a marriage ceremony for April Dawn Breeden and her long-time partner Crystal Pearis Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, at City Hall in St. Louis. St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison overturned Missouri’s ban on gay marriage on Wednesday saying the law is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Rev. Katie Hotze-Wilton signs a Missouri marriage license after performing a marriage ceremony for April Dawn Breeden and her long-time partner Crystal Pearis Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, at City Hall in St. Louis. St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison overturned Missouri’s ban on gay marriage on Wednesday saying the law is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Breaking ranks with rulings from other federal courts, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in Ohio upheld gay marriage bans in four states, saying the courts aren’t the right place to legalize gay marriage. Here’s a look at key passages and how they compare to previous federal rulings:

1. ON CHILDREN

THE LATEST: The 6th Circuit ruling says that limiting unions to being only between a man and a woman is a view shared “not long ago by every society in the world, shared by most, if not all, of our ancestors, and shared still today by a significant number of the States.”

People may not need the government’s encouragement to have sex or “propagate the species,” it says, but they may need encouragement to “create and maintain stable relationships within which children may flourish.”

“Imagine a society without marriage. It does not take long to envision problems that might result from an absence of rules about how to handle the natural effects of male-female intercourse: children,” the opinion says. “May men and women follow their procreative urges wherever they take them? Who is responsible for the children that result?”

The judges acknowledge that gay and lesbian couples are equally capable of being in loving, committed relationships and effectively raising children. But those facts don’t mean states must suddenly believe gay marriage bans violate the constitution, the opinion says.

EARLIER RULINGS: The San Francisco-based 9th Circuit said the proposition that children suffer in same-sex households “reflects a crass and callous view of parental love and the parental bond that is not worthy of response. We reject it out of hand.”

The Denver-based 10th Circuit scoffed at the attempts by Utah and other states to use procreation as a justification for gay marriage bans. In a majority opinion written by Judge Carlos Lucero, the court pointed out that adoptive parents and opposite-sex couples who rely on assistance to get pregnant aren’t denied the right to marry. They said they don’t buy the contention that same-sex couples are inferior parents.

2. ON POLYGAMY

THE LATEST: The 6th Circuit ruling suggests making gay marriage legal could open the door for others such as polygamists to claim their unions also constitute legal marriage.

“There is no reason to think that three or four adults, whether gay, bisexual, or straight, lack the capacity to share love, affection, and commitment, or for that matter lack the capacity to be capable (and more plentiful) parents to boot,” it says. “If it is constitutionally irrational to stand by the man-woman definition of marriage, it must be constitutionally irrational to stand by the monogamous definition of marriage.”

EARLIER RULINGS: The 10th Circuit rejected the “slippery slope” argument that contends legalizing gay marriage would lead to acceptance for polygamy. “Unlike polygamous or incestuous marriages, the Supreme Court has explicitly extended constitutional protection to intimate same-sex relationships,” the ruling said.

3. ON STATES’ RIGHTS

THE LATEST: States should be able retain authority to define marriage as between a man and woman to ensure the incentive to stay together for their children remains, the 6th Circuit opinion says.

“That does not convict the States of irrationality, only of awareness of the biological reality that couples of the same sex do not have children in the same way as couples of opposite sexes and that couples of the same sex do not run the risk of unintended offspring,” it says.

EARLIER RULINGS: In its June ruling striking down Utah’s gay marriage ban, the 10th Circuit dismissed as “wholly illogical” the notion that states allowing gays to wed could somehow undermine traditional marriage. Judge Carlos Lucero wrote for the majority. “We may not deny them relief based on a mere preference that their arguments be settled elsewhere.”

4. ON THE SUPREME COURT

THE LATEST: The 6th Circuit makes note that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Oct. 6 to turn away appeals from five states seeking to prohibit gay and lesbian unions does not end the debate on the constitutionality of gay marriage bans.

“A decision not to decide is a decision not to decide,” Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote.

EARLIER RULINGS: Other appeals courts have agreed that the high court has not given clear guidance on the issue. About the Supreme Court’s ruling in June 2013 that overturned part of a federal ban on gay marriage, the 10th Circuit wrote: “While Windsor is the only Supreme Court case concerning same-gender marriage, it simply did not decide the issue of state prohibitions on same-gender marriages.”

Ginsburg: Watch 6th Circuit on Gay Marriage

FILE - In this July 31, 2014 file photo is Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her Supreme Court chambers in Washington. Ginsburg discusses the work of the court in an appearance Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014 at the University of Minnesota Law School. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File) The Associated Press

FILE – In this July 31, 2014 file photo is Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her Supreme Court chambers in Washington. Ginsburg discusses the work of the court in an appearance Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014 at the University of Minnesota Law School. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File) The Associated Press

People seeking clues about how soon the Supreme Court might weigh in on states’ gay marriage bans should pay close attention to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told a Minnesota audience Tuesday.

Ginsburg said cases pending before the circuit covering Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee would probably play a role in the high court’s timing. She said “there will be some urgency” if that appeals court allows same-sex marriage bans to stand. Such a decision would run contrary to a legal trend favoring gay marriage and force the Supreme Court to step in sooner, she predicted.

She said if the appeals panel falls in line with other rulings there is “no need for us to rush.”

Ginsburg didn’t get into the merits of any particular case or any state’s gay marriage ban, but she marveled at the “remarkable” shift in public perception of same-sex marriage that she attributes to gays and lesbians being more open about their relationships. Same-sex couples can legally wed in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Bans that have been overturned in some other states continue to make their way through the courts.

“Having people close to us who say who they are — that made the attitude change in this country,” Ginsburg said at the University of Minnesota Law School.

The Supreme Court returns from a summer recess in early October. Ginsburg wasn’t the only justice on the lecture circuit Tuesday; Justice Clarence Thomas was addressing a gathering in Texas.

Thomas, one of the court’s conservatives, expressed his firm belief in the strict construction of the Constitution during his appearance at the University of Texas at Tyler. As a judge, Thomas said, he’s “not into creative writing,” the Tyler Morning Telegraph reported.

And Thomas said he’s motivated by the belief that if the country “is not perfect, it is perfectible.”

Fifteen months ago, the high court struck down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denied a range of tax, health and veterans benefits to legally married gay couples. Rulings invalidating state gay marriage bans followed in quick succession.

Ginsburg spent 90 minutes before an audience of hundreds discussing her two decades on the Supreme Court as well as her days as an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer. In a question-and-answer period, she predicted that cases dealing with the environment and technology would make for watershed decisions in years to come.

Privacy of information carried on smartphones in the context of criminal searches could be particularly big, Ginsburg said. “You can have on that cellphone more than you can pack in a file cabinet,” she said.

The liberal justice said the court is the most collegial place she has worked as she fondly described her close relationship with conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. She made sure to plug a comic opera about the two of them — “Scalia/Ginsburg” — that will debut next year in Virginia.

And the 81-year-old Ginsburg elicited plenty of laughter by highlighting a Tumblr account about her called the “Notorious R.B.G.” and a never-realized dream job.

“If I had any talent God could give me, I would be a great diva,” she said.

Source: AP via ABCNews.com, “Ginsburg: Watch 6th Circuit on Gay Marriage,” MINNEAPOLIS — Sep 16, 2014, 11:26 PM ET
By BRIAN BAKST, Associated Press

Judges weigh 4 states’ same-sex marriage cases

CINCINNATI (AP) – Three federal judges weighing arguments in a landmark gay marriage hearing Wednesday peppered attorneys on both sides with tough questions, with one judge expressing deep skepticism about whether courts are the ideal setting for major social change and another saying the democratic process can be too slow.

render

Gay marriage supporters rally on Fountain Square, Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, in Cincinnati. Three judges of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati are set to hear arguments Wednesday in six gay marriage fights from four states, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

The judges in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considered arguments in six cases from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, setting the stage for historic rulings in each state that would put more pressure on the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the issue once and for all. Wednesday’s hearing was the biggest so far on the issue.

The cases pit states’ rights and traditional, conservative values against what plaintiffs’ attorneys say is a fundamental right to marry under the U.S. Constitution.

While questions and comments from two of the judges all but gave away how they’ll rule, one in favor of gay marriage and one opposed, Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton vigorously challenged some of each side’s assertions.

Sutton repeatedly questioned attorneys for the same-sex couples whether the courts are the best place to legalize gay marriage, saying that the way to win Americans’ hearts and minds is to wait until they’re ready to vote for it.

“I would have thought the best way to get respect and dignity is through the democratic process,” said Sutton, a George W. Bush nominee. “Nothing happens as quickly as we’d like it.”

Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey, a Bill Clinton nominee, said that historically, courts have had to intervene when individual constitutional rights are being violated, such as overturning state laws against interracial marriage and giving women the right to vote, pointing out that the latter took decades.

“Do you have any knowledge of how many years I’m talking about, going into every state, every city, every state board of elections, for 70 years?” she said. “It didn’t work. It took an amendment to the Constitution.”

Besides, gay marriage already is legal in more than a quarter of the states, and “it doesn’t look like the sky has fallen in,” Daughtrey said.

Constitutional law professors and court observers say that the 6th Circuit could be the first to uphold statewide bans on gay marriage following an unbroken string of more than 20 rulings in the past eight months that have gone the other way.

They point to Sutton, the least predictable judge on the panel. In 2011, he shocked Republicans and may have derailed his own chances to advance to the U.S. Supreme Court when he became the deciding vote in a ruling that upheld President Barack Obama’s health care law.

If the 6th Circuit decides against gay marriage, it would create a divide among federal appellate courts and put pressure on the U.S. Supreme Court to settle the issue in its 2015 session. The panel did not indicate when it would rule.

Attorneys for each state defended their marriage bans, arguing that any change should come from voters and that same-sex marriage is too new to be considered a deeply rooted, fundamental right.

“The most basic right we have as a people is to decide public policy questions on our own,” said Michigan’s solicitor general, Aaron Lindstrom.

Leigh Latherow, hired by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, told the judges that the state has an economic interest in encouraging heterosexual marriage, which can lead to procreation. And Tennessee Associate Solicitor Joseph Whalen said Tennessee’s law barring recognition of out-of-state gay marriages ensures children are born into a stable family environment.

Attorneys for the same-sex couples said marriage is fundamental for everyone and should not be decided by popular votes.

“These rights are very, very profound,” said Al Gerhardstein, a Cincinnati civil rights attorney representing the Ohio plaintiffs. “A marriage is a significant thing. It’s solemn. It’s precious. This can’t be just subjected to a vote.”

Carole Stanyar, who represents the same-sex Michigan plaintiffs, bemoaned the often slow pace of the democratic process and said she doesn’t see such a change coming to her state any time soon.

“In my state, nothing is happening to help gay people,” she said.

Outside the courthouse, advocates held up banners and signs urging marriage equality. Jon Bradford, 26, of Covington, Kentucky, wore a wedding dress, and his partner, Matt Morris, wore a top hat and formal shirt.

“It’s to make a statement, really,” Bradford said. “We want to be married.”

He said they were hopeful the court will rule in favor of same-sex marriage.

“One day, it’s going to happen,” he said. “You can’t stop love.”

About a dozen opponents prayed the rosary outside the courthouse.

“I’m just praying for God’s will to be done,” said Jeff Parker, 53, from the Cincinnati suburb of Madeira.

Gay marriage is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Other states’ bans are tied up in courts.

Two federal appeals courts have ruled in favor of gay marriage – one in Denver in June and another in Richmond, Virginia, last week. On Tuesday, Utah appealed one of those rulings, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case and uphold its ban. Oklahoma followed suit Wednesday.

The 6th Circuit is the first of three federal appeals courts to hear arguments from multiple states in coming weeks. The 7th Circuit in Chicago has similar arguments set for Aug. 26 for bans in Wisconsin and Indiana. The 9th Circuit in San Francisco is to take up Idaho’s and Nevada’s bans Sept. 8.

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Associated Press writers Lisa Cornwell and Dan Sewell contributed. Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AmandaLeeAP

Source:  AP, “Judges weigh 4 states’ same-sex marriage cases,” by Amanda Lee Myers and Brett Barrouquere, Published: August 6, 2014