Final marriage ruling in sight?

Meredith Flynn —  September 22, 2014

Supreme Court likely to untangle mixed state judgments

NEWS | After a Louisiana state judge upheld the traditional definition of marriage in a September ruling, advocates on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate are calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to make a final, nationwide ruling, once and for all. Indications are, they will.

Thirty-two states filed briefs this month asking the Supreme Court to decide the marriage issue. The appeal made by the states—15 that allow same-sex marriage and 17 that don’t—came the day after a federal judge in Louisiana this month became the first judge to uphold a state’s ban on same-sex marriage since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act last summer.

Judge Martin Feldman ruled Sept. 3 that same-sex marriage “is not a fundamental right that states must uphold despite constitutional or legislative bans,” reported USA Today.

Feldman wrote in his opinion, “The court is persuaded that a mean of what is marriage that has endured in history for thousands of years, and prevails in a majority of states today, is not universally irrational.”

Similar to rulings that have overturned banned in other states, Feldman’s decision will be appealed. Circuit appeals courts also have been busy this summer considering the same-sex marriage question:

  • In the 9th Circuit, the Court of Appeals heard arguments Sept. 8 in three cases that could affect nine states. In the suits, couples in Hawaii, Idaho and Nevada say bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional and have a negative impact on their families.
  • The Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which includes Illinois, agreed Sept. 4 with two lower court rulings to overturn same-sex marriage bans in Indiana and Wisconsin. In Illinois, same-sex marriages officially began June 1 after the General Assembly approved “The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act” last fall.
  • The 10th and 4th circuits previously overturned same-sex marriage bans in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia. Like virtually all of the rulings on same-sex marriage, the decisions are on hold.

Some pundits say cases in the 6th Circuit could determine when the Supreme Court will consider same-sex marriage. In early August, the court considered cases challenging same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. At an event at the University of Minnesota earlier this month, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg predicted the court will decide on marriage “sooner or later,” according to the Washington Post, but there currently is “no urgency.” If same-sex marriage loses in the 6th Circuit, the decision could present the split needed to bring in the high court, the Post reported.

Religious groups, including the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, also issued a friend-of-the-court brief asking the Supreme Court to settle the marriage issue, stating in part, “Legal uncertainty is especially burdensome for religious organizations and religious believers increasingly confronted with thorny questions.”

To help answer some of those questions for Illinois pastors and church leaders, the Illinois Baptist State Association will host the “Elevate Marriage” conference October 16 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the IBSA Building in Springfield. Featured speakers include Kevin Smith, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Andrew Walker, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; and Jill Finley, Bethel Baptist Church, Troy, Ill. Lunch is included, and registration is required; go to http://www.IBSA.org/Marriage.

Meredith Flynn

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Meredith is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.