by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Breaking with all the other appellate courts that have ruled on same-sex marriage, a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld marriage bans in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee. The decision applies to six lawsuits from all four states.
The November 6 ruling was a split 2-1 decision, with Judges Deborah Cook and Jeffrey Sutton voting to uphold the bans, and Senior Circuit Judge Martha Craig Daughtry dissenting.
'When the courts do not let the people resolve new social issues like this one, they perpetuate the idea that the heroes in these change events are judges and lawyers,' Sutton wrote in the main opinion.
'Better, in this instance, we think, to allow change through the customary political processes, in which the people, gay and straight alike, become the heroes of their own stories by meeting each other not as adversaries in a court system but as fellow citizens seeking to resolve a new social issue in a fair-minded way.'
In her dissent, Daughtry called the Sutton opinion 'an introductory lecture in political philosophy,' but added that it failed 'to grapple with the relevant constitutional issue in this appeal.'
Cook was appointed to the Sixth Circuit by George W. Bush, and was mentioned as a possible replacement for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner when she retired. Sutton is also a Bush nominee. Daughtry was appointed by Bill Clinton.
'We're extremely disappointed for the families in these four states, but this decision highlights the need for the U. S. Supreme Court to right this injustice. While a tidal wave of courts around the nation have struck down marriage bans, this decision leaves Sixth Circuit states in a backwater and, worst of all, injures same-sex couples and their children,' said Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation for Lambda Legal, which joined one of the Ohio cases, Henry v. Himes. 'Depriving same-sex couples and their families of the protections and dignity that come with marriage is flat out unconstitutional, and Lambda Legal vows to continue working until justice is won.'
'Our clients and their children need the full protections of marriage, and they need them now,' said Al Gerhardstein, a private attorney also working on Henry v. Himes. 'The Sixth Circuit's refusal to recognize marriages of same-sex couples relegates them to a second-class status for no legitimate reason. We will continue to fight for love and commitment, and won't stop until the law recognizes the importance of our families' marriages and their need for the security that comes from accurate birth certificates.'
Plaintiffs in the six cases may ask the Sixth Circuit for en banc review, meaning a new hearing with the entire court participating, or they may appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court declined to hear previous appeals because all the Circuit Courts had ruled same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. With the Sixth Circuit breaking ranks, it seems possible that the Supreme Court will accept an appeal if asked.
Marriage equality advocates reacted with predictable dismay as their string of legal victories came to an end.
'The legacies of Judges Deborah Cook and Jeffrey Sutton will forever be cemented on the wrong side of history,' HRC president Chad Griffin said in a statement. 'Today the Sixth Circuit stood in the way of a path constructed by two dozen federal court rulings over the last year - a path that inevitably leads to nationwide marriage equality. Gay and lesbian couples in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee are just as deserving of marriage equality as the rest of America. Now, more than ever before, the Supreme Court of the United States must take up the issue and decide once and for all whether the Constitution allows for such blatant discrimination. We believe that justice and equality will prevail.'
Freedom To Marry also called on the Supreme Court to settle the issue of marriage equality.
'Today's ruling is completely out of step with the Supreme Court's clear signal last month, out of step with the constitutional command as recognized by nearly every state and federal court in the past year, and out of step with the majority of the American people,' the group said.
'This anomalous ruling won't stand the test of time or appeal. But with discrimination still burdening too many families, and now with this split in the circuits, Freedom to Marry calls on the Supreme Court to swiftly take these cases, affirm the freedom to marry, and bring national resolution once and for all. American couples and their families should no longer be forced to fight court by court, state by state, day by day for the freedom and dignity that our Constitution promises.'
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