The legal skirmish over same-sex marriage shifted Tuesday to a federal appeals court in Chicago, where nearly 200 people lined up hoping to hear arguments in a case challenging gay marriage bans in Wisconsin and Indiana.
Attorneys general in both states are trying to reinstate bans that were ruled unconstitutional in June. The outcome of the case also could directly affect hundreds of couples who were married after federal judges overturned the bans but before their rulings were put on hold pending appeal.
Many of those couples and their supporters hoped to hear arguments Tuesday, with some lining up outside the 25th-floor courtroom as early as 5 a.m. Among them was Ruth Morrison, a retired Indianapolis Fire Department battalion chief. She noted that because Indiana won't recognize the woman she married in another state as her wife, she wouldn't be able to pass on pension and other benefits if she dies.
"Now Indiana tells us our promises are only good if our spouses are of the opposite sex," Morrison, wearing a fire department uniform, said during a rally ahead of the hearing Monday night.
Lawyers representing both states, along with attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, a national group working for gay rights, are allotted 20 minutes each to argue their case before a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The court announced Tuesday morning that the judges hearing the case are Richard Posner, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan; Ann Claire Williams, a Bill Clinton appointee; and David Hamilton, appointed by President Barack Obama. It's unclear when the court might issue a ruling.
Gay marriage is currently legal in 19 states as well as the District of Columbia, and momentum is building for more states to recognize it. Advocates have won more than 20 court victories around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage in 2013.
A voter-approved constitutional amendment bans gay marriage in Wisconsin. State law prohibits it in Indiana. Neither state recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin's ban in February, while Lambda Legal filed its lawsuit challenging Indiana's ban in March. The lawsuits raised similar arguments on behalf of several gay and lesbian plaintiffs, contending that the bans violate the U.S. Constitution's equal protection guarantee.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb struck down Wisconsin's ban on June 6, and more than 500 gay and lesbian couples got married before Crabb put her ruling on hold a week later pending an appeal by Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.
In Indiana, U.S. District Judge Richard Young threw out the state's prohibition on June 25. Hundreds of couples in that state got married before the 7th Circuit stayed his ruling two days later.
Van Hollen and Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, both Republicans, have raised similar arguments. They say their states have the authority to set marriage standards, and that the federal government should defer to them.
Van Hollen noted that Wisconsin has traditionally defined marriage as a union between a man and woman. Zoeller has maintained that his state has a legitimate interest in promoting traditional marriage as a means of encouraging environments where biological parents raise their children.
"There is no due process or equal protection right to have one's out-of-state same-sex marriage recognized at home, and no due process or equal protection right to same-sex marriage outright," Zoeller's attorneys argued in a recent court filing.
The ACLU and Lambda Legal have essentially reiterated their equal protection arguments in appeals court filings, arguing that the bans deny gay couples state and federal legal protections and benefits that married straight couples enjoy.
"The freedom to marry is a core aspect of personal liberty for all Americans," the ACLU said in its briefs.