Court to Consider 5 Gay Marriage Cases at Once
A federal appeals court will hear arguments in gay marriage fights in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee in a single session, setting the stage for historic rulings in each state.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Cincinnati, scheduled arguments in five cases from the four states for Aug. 6. Though the cases are unique, each deals with whether statewide gay marriage bans violate the Constitution.
"I think the way the court’s approaching it is significant," said Al Gerhardstein, a Cincinnati civil rights attorney who represents plaintiffs in two Ohio cases that will go before the appeals court. "They see the need to do some basic rulings on core principals cutting across all these state lines. It’s very exciting."
Louisville attorney Dawn Elliott, who represents eight plaintiffs in the Kentucky case, said she and her co-counsel plan to make their arguments personal, focusing on the people affected by the ruling.
"Our plaintiffs are all planning on being there, because it’s harder to say no to somebody when you’re looking at them, to say, ’No your marriage is not valid because you’re gay,’" said Elliott’s co-counsel, Shannon Fauver.
The 6th Circuit is the third federal appeals court to weigh recent challenges to state gay marriage bans, though the first to consider cases in several states at the same time. Arguments were held in the 4th Circuit in Virginia in May and the 10th Circuit in Denver in April. Rulings are expected soon.
In Cincinnati, a three-judge panel will hear arguments in each case one at a time. It’s unclear whether it will issue a large ruling encompassing all the cases or separate ones. Any losing side could appeal the circuit court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Courts are taking the cases after more than a dozen federal and state judges have struck down part or all of state-level bans in recent months. No rulings have gone the other way.
"It should be a very historic day," said Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation at national gay rights group Lambda Legal, which is involved in some of the litigation. "In some of the other circuits, while there may be cases percolating up in more than one state, none are not as saturated as the 6th Circuit with rulings coming out of every state."
The five cases being considered by the Cincinnati appeals court are:
- An order from a federal judge for Ohio to recognize all out-of-state gay marriages, currently on hold.
- A narrower case that forced Ohio to recognize same-sex marriages on death certificates.
- A federal judge’s ruling that overturned parts of Kentucky’s same-sex marriage ban, saying it violated the Constitution’s equal-protection clause by treating "gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them."
- A federal judge’s order overturning Michigan’s gay marriage ban, which followed a rare trial that focused mostly on the impact of same-sex parenting on children.
- A federal judge who ordered Tennessee to recognize three same-sex couples’ marriages while their lawsuit against the state works through the courts. Tennessee officials are appealing the preliminary injunction to the 6th Circuit.