10th Circuit ruling pushes gay marriage closer to Supreme Court

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The first ruling by a federal appeals court that states cannot prevent gay couples from marrying makes it more likely the Supreme Court of the United States will ultimately have to make a decision it has so far avoided — do states have the ability to prohibit same-sex marriage?

The court danced around that question precisely one year ago when it issued a pair of rulings on gay marriage. At the time, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer warned about the high court trying to enforce societal changes through judicial fiat, with Ginsburg citing the lingering abortion rights battle ever since the court legalized the practice in Roe v. Wade.

The high court's caution was evident in its rulings: It upheld a decision striking down California's gay marriage ban but relied on technicalities rather than finding a national right for same sex couples to marry. Then it struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, finding same-sex marriages from states where the practice was legal must be recognized.

That decision triggered an avalanche of 17 straight court decisions upholding the rights of gays to marry, including Wednesday's 2-1 ruling from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the highest court to weigh in since the Supreme Court. Utah, whose gay marriage ban was struck down in the decision, is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.

"This tees it up for possible Supreme Court review," said William Eskridge, a law professor at Yale University. "When a federal appeals court strikes down a major state law, there is a lot more pressure for the justices to take that."

There is no guarantee that the Utah case will be the one that makes it to the top court. Five other appellate courts are considering similar cases, and any of those could be the one taken. The soonest a case could be decided is 2015, but often the Supreme Court waits for a split in appellate courts before considering an issue.

"I don't know if the Supreme Court is going to wait for a circuit split as long as it usually does," said Nancy Leong, a law professor at the University of Denver, noting that the recent judicial unanimity on the issue could make that a long wait. Meanwhile, she said, countless gay couples are eager to marry and less and less willing for the slow pace of the courts.

That was on display in Colorado on Wednesday afternoon, when the county clerk in the liberal city of Boulder announced she would issue same-sex marriage licenses even though the 10th Circuit — which along with Colorado and Utah includes, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming — stayed its decision pending appeal. The state's attorney general declared the licenses invalid because Colorado's gay marriage prohibition is still the law, but Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall said she would continue to issue them until stopped by a court.

Wednesday's ruling stressed the urgency of overturning gay marriage bans rather than waiting for new laws to be written by elected officials. "Plaintiffs in this case have convinced us that Amendment 3 violates their fundamental right to marry," Judge Carlos Lucero wrote for the majority. "We may not deny them relief based on a mere preference that their arguments be settled elsewhere."

But Judge Paul Kelly argued in his dissent that the 10th Circuit overstepped its authority and that states should be able to decide who can marry.

"We should resist the temptation to become philosopher-kings, imposing our views under the guise of the 14th Amendment," Kelly wrote.

The ruling came down just minutes after a federal judge threw out that Indiana's same-sex marriage ban in a decision that immediately allows gay couples to wed. But the legal significance of the 10th Circuit ruling is far greater because it is one level higher on the legal food chain.

In 2012, an appellate court struck down California's gay marriage ban but said it was only ruling on that law, not the broader constitutional questions. There were no such caveats in Wednesday's 65-page decision.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said Utah's legal victory was sweeter because of where it originated — a conservative, deeply religious state in the heart of the mountain West.

"What is so powerful here is that we have the first federal appellate court and ... it's a case coming out of Utah affirming in the strongest, clearest, boldest terms that the Constitution guarantees the freedom to marry and equal protection for all Americans and all means all, including gay couples," he said.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based in Salt Lake City, said it maintains marriage should be between a man and a woman, but believes "all people should be treated with respect."

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, issued a statement saying judges were treading on dangerous ground by moving so fast.

"The courts, for all their power, can't overturn natural law. What they can do is incite a movement of indignant Americans, who are tired of seeing the foundations of a free and just society destroyed by a handful of black-robed tyrants," Perkins said.




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  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.