6th Circuit hears 6 equality cases from 4 states

By Lisa Neff, Staff writer

UPDATED: The outcome of a lengthy session in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Aug. 6 could impact the lives of an estimated 52,400 same-sex couples and 18,300 children.

The Williams Institute at the UCLA Law School estimates there are 19,684 same-sex couples residing in Ohio, 14,598 same-sex couples in Michigan, 7,195 same-sex couples in Kentucky and 10,898 same-sex couples in Tennessee.

Many of them will be looking for their federal appeals court to rule for equality in the six cases heard from the four states in one day — the most marriage cases that any federal circuit court has ever heard in a single day.

Oral arguments took place on Aug. 6 in Cincinnati, where a panel of three judges — Martha Craig Daughtrey, Jeffrey S. Sutton and Deborah L. Cook — weighed arguments to decide whether federal district judges made the correct decisions in ruling for marriage equality.

A rally took place outside the courthouse while the hearing was taking place, and another rally took place on the eve of the oral arguments.

Early reports from the hearing indicated that two of the three judges suggested marriage issues should be decided by the democratic process, not the courts.

A ruling against same-sex marriage in the Sixth Circuit would create a division at the federal appeals court level. Already this year, appeals courts in the Fourth and the Tenth circuits have struck down constitutional amendments barring same-sex couples from marrying. Ruling against amendments in Virginia, Utah and Oklahoma, the courts said that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry.

In the decision that overturned Virginia’s anti-gay ban, Judge Henry F. Floyd said, “Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life. It allows individuals to celebrate and publicly declare their intentions to form lifelong partnerships, which provide unparalleled intimacy, companionship, emotional support and security. The choice of whether and whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual’s life. Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance.”

The decision prompted North Carolina’s attorney general to say he would no longer defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. North Carolina’s amendment, enacted by voters in 2012, was the last to be approved before the tide of victories for marriage equality.

On Aug. 26, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago is scheduled to hear arguments in the equality cases from Wisconsin and Indiana.

In September, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear arguments in cases out of Idaho and Nevada.

Any of the appeals court rulings could end up being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015, making a final verdict on marriage equality possibly by next summer, two years after the Court’s landmark ruling against the federal ban on gay marriage in the Defense of Marriage Act.

The high court has been asked to review the decisions overturning Utah’s anti-marriage amendment and also Oklahoma’s ban on marriage equality.

Circuit by circuit

There are some 75-plus marriage equality cases at various levels of consideration in U.S. courts — at federal and state levels.

Wisconsin’s case is before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Illinois and Indiana.

FIRST CIRCUIT: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico.

SECOND CIRCUIT: Vermont, New York and Connecticut.

THIRD CIRCUIT: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware.

FOURTH CIRCUIT: Maryland, District of Columbia, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina.

FIFTH CIRCUIT: Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

SIXTH CIRCUIT: Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

EIGHTH CIRCUIT: Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota.

NINTH CIRCUIT: Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska and Hawaii.

TENTH CIRCUIT: Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Oklahoma.

ELEVENTH CIRCUIT: Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

— L.N.