October 22, 2014

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Federal judges hear arguments in 4 states’ gay marriage cases

Gay marriage supporters Duane Lewis and Rex Van Alstine, right, hold their hands to their chests as the national anthem plays during a rally Tuesday in support of gay marriage in downtown Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Tom Uhlman)

Gay marriage supporters Duane Lewis and Rex Van Alstine, right, hold their hands to their chests as the national anthem plays during a rally Tuesday in support of gay marriage in downtown Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Tom Uhlman)

CINCINNATI (AP) — Judges Martha Craig Daughtrey and Deborah L. Cook made it clear fairly quickly they stood on opposite sides of the same-sex marriage debate. Their colleague, Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton, however, gave fewer hints as to where he may come down when the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decides the fate of gay marriage bans in four states.

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

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

Daughtrey’s comments and questions Wednesday displayed bewilderment at arguments for upholding the laws and Cook several times stepped in to make the point for the states’ more clearly than their attorneys. Sutton showed skepticism as gay couples from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee pushed to require their states to recognize their marriages elsewhere or allow them to be married in their home states. He also repeatedly pressed attorneys for the states on the logic behind their arguments.

Attorneys for the same-sex couples focused heavily on two main points: the discriminatory nature of the laws and the slow pace and expense of changing state constitutions as well as the federal Constitution.

Laura Landenwich, a Louisville, Kentucky, attorney representing same-sex couples from that state, said sometimes democracy doesn’t keep up with the will of the public.

“There is a limit to the democratic process,” Landenwich said.

Sutton’s questions to the plaintiffs focused heavily on why they were using the court system rather than allowing democracy to work its will in the states.

“I would have thought the best way to get respect and dignity is through the democratic process,” Sutton said. “Nothing happens as quickly as we’d like it. … I’m not 100 percent sure it’s the better route for the gay rights community.”

Attorneys for the four states zeroed in on the fact that voters enacted the laws being questioned and the idea that heterosexual couples can procreate and bring children into stable environments.

Michigan’s solicitor general, Aaron Lindstrom, argued that any change in the state’s ban on same-sex marriage should come through the political process and that the laws aren’t discriminatory.

“The most basic right we have as a people is to decide public policy questions on our own,” he said.

Along with the attorneys, Sutton sparred with Daughtrey, who repeatedly expressed confusion at the arguments forwarded by attorneys for the four states.

“Can you explain the state’s formulation of a basis for the law?” she asked Bill Harbison, the attorney for same-sex couples in Tennessee.

“No I can’t,” Harbison responded.

At one point, Daughtrey, an appointee of President Bill Clinton in 1993, told Sutton that the briefs filed by Harbison “contained great insight.”

“You should read it,” Daughtrey said.

“Great, We’ll try to do it before we issue an opinion,” Sutton responded as laughter rippled through the courtroom.

Sutton, appointed to the position by President George W. Bush in 2003, is known for being unpredictable, shocking Republicans in 2011 when he became the deciding vote in a 6th Circuit ruling that upheld President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Cook, also a Bush appointee in 2003, at times spoke up for the states defending the laws.

“People elect people … and use the democratic process to move things along locally and statewide,” Cook said as Ohio state solicitor Eric Murphy stumbled over his argument that voters should be allowed to make the laws in the states.

Phil Burress, leader of the Citizens for Community Values, based in the Cincinnati suburb of Sharonville, was outside the federal courthouse on Wednesday as members of his group and others opposed to gay marriage prayed.

He said proponents of gay marriage hope to use the courts to achieve their goal.

“This is their only chance to force same-sex marriage upon all 50 states,” Burress said.”

Plaintiffs Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard and Dominique James of Bardstown, Kentucky, who sat together during the three-hours of arguments, left feeling good about their changes of being married in Kentucky in the near future.

“I feel like the procreation argument fell flat on its face,” Blanchard said. “I hope we get a ruling soon and can move on with our lives.”

Sutton, though, issued a note of caution before leaving the bench. No one, he said, should be in a hurry no matter the outcome of the largest such batch of cases heard to date by an appeals court.

“I don’t think anyone is under any illusion that this is the end of the road for anyone,” Sutton said.


  • todd

    There is no compromising in today’s world. Who the heck cares what you do at home? This should have been an easy and major bargaining chip for the right. Instead it’s a noose.

    • oldruss

      What one does in the privacy of his or her home does not usually concern others. However, here, the State of Ohio (all of us, taxpayers,) are being to asked to recognize a “marriage contract” which endows each of the persons who are “married” with certain benefits at taxpayers’ expense.

      • Otter

        “all of us tax payers” gay people pay taxes, and are denied the same benefits, at their expense.

        • Pablo Jones

          What benefits are denied? Not being able to filing a joint tax return? That actually saves them money.

          • Otter

            Social Security, bereavement leave, family leave (to care for spouse, or child) home insurance, health insurance, inheritance, if there is no will) of a shared home, or personal items, access to courts for, shared property, child support (incase of divorce) only one persons name can be listed on birth certificate. I’m sure there is more…

          • Exposing Bishop

            Otter, you are right.
            Sad thing is, there are still uninformed simpletons who plow though life like a bulldozer driven by a consumer.
            If anyone is behind the wheel there

          • Pablo Jones

            SS is federal and they are covered. Bereavement is a company policy that may or may not be offered. Family medical leave act is a federal policy and they would be covered. Home insurance? A gay married couple can’t by home insurance? I would bet you are wrong on that. Health insurance again is a company policy that may or may not be cover spouses. Both names can be on the mortgage or ownership papers for a house. If people die without a will there is little guarantee that possessions will be dispersed or inherited as you would like regardless if you are heterosexually or homosexually married. For child support more than 1 name can go on the birth certificate, and if they adopt which is usually the case both parents will be on the adoption papers and someone will have to pay child support.

            So what are they being denied?

          • Otter
          • Pablo Jones

            An outdated listing from 2004. There is a reason that they don’t update it because there wouldn’t be much on it.

          • Otter

            So some of it has changed, for some…it varies by agency, and by state. Some changes only apply to states who recognize gay marriage, and some apply to all states, not fair to someone who, just because they live in OH., not to have the same benefits as someone who lives in MA.
            If you are opposed to gay marriage, just say so…..

          • Pablo Jones

            Even in Ohio rights and benefits are the same. Rights aren’t being denied. If they want kids they can have kids. If they want a house they can have a house. If they want to have a say in their partners medical issues they can. Federal benefits are the same.

            We always hear that their rights are being denied and that they are being treated as second class citizens. But they never say what rights are being denied. Just generalizations, I have seen that 2004 list posted dozens of times.

            Aside from having a piece of paper that says married by the State of Ohio they are treated almost entirely the same. One way they are treated different in Ohio is they can not file a joint tax return, which works out that they pay a lower tax rate.

            I just want to know what has a gay married couple not been allowed to do in Ohio because they are gay that straight married people can. This whole thing is a big deal over nothing.

            For the record I voted against the state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. If they want the state constitution changed to allow gay marriage they should put it through as a referendum. If they go through the courts it will never be accepted.

  • Chan

    Leviticus 20:13 (NLT)

    • Malcolm Swall

      Topic is constitutional law, i.e., what the govt is allowed to do.

      A biblical quote may provide you with spiritual guidance, but has no argument in law.

      • Chan

        You must believe that man made laws take precedence over HIS laws!

        • Malcolm Swall

          I guess you refer to a god of your religion. I have no belief in any super natural phenomonom, gods, demons, ancient aliens or big foot. So yes, my position is that the law should be independant of the myriad different and conflicting faith traditions and rather based on principles that peoples of all faiths, and none, all can agree on.

  • SniperFire

    Meanwhile, in REAL National news:

    ‘Border Patrol Agent: Federal Government Releasing Murderers Into US’

  • Malcolm Swall

    Equal rights and justice for all.

  • HowAboutThisOne?