Appeals court upholds same-sex marriage bans, setting stage for Supreme Court

The question of marriage equality in the United States is almost surely to be decided by the U.S Supreme Court, now that a federal appeals court in Ohio has upheld same-sex marriage bans in four states.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit decision on Thursday, Nov. 6, overturned rulings in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky. This is the first time an appeals court has upheld state same-sex marriage bans since the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

“While the decision of the 6th Circuit Appellate Court is unsettling, it will be made right,” said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, UCC national officer and Local Church Ministries executive.  “It just increases the likelihood that the U.S. Supreme Court will now step in and settle the issue for the whole nation. This gives me hope, even though this long road has been full of frustrations.”

In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court said that voters, not the legal system, should decide the constitutionality of marriage equality. “When the courts do not let the people resolve new social issues like this one, they perpetuate the idea that the heroes in these change events are judges and lawyers,” Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote in the ruling.

“Better in this instance, we think, to allow change through the customary political processes, in which the people, gay and straight alike, become the heroes of their own stories by meeting each other not as adversaries in a court system but as fellow citizens seeking to resolve a new social issue in a fair-minded way,” Sutton wrote.

“This is a difficult and painful ruling because it has real implications for couples and their families,” said the Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, UCC executive for health and wholeness advocacy. “My own marriage is now recognized in the state where I was born (Missouri), in the state where my parents live (Oklahoma) but not in the state where I live (Ohio). It is an injustice, inconsistent with the rulings of four other federal circuit courts and it needs to be rectified.”

The split among the circuit courts (the 4th, 7th, 9th and 10th Circuits all ruled same-sex marriage bans violated the 14th Amendment) creates a rift that the Supreme Court must likely resolve.

But the 6th Circuit’s decision has only strengthened the resolve of marriage equality advocates who believe this is only a setback, and that eventually all people in this country will be able to legally wed the person they love.

“We celebrate that marriage equality is now a reality in 35 states and the District of Columbia, but we also recognize that many families are still denied the rights, responsibilities and protections that civil marriage affords committed couples and their children,” said Guess.  “My partner Jim and I have been together for 13 years, and legally married for six, but our marriage is still not recognized in Ohio where we live, and Thursday’s court ruling only increases the likelihood that it could be yet another year or longer before that happens.”

Marriage equality advocates are heartened by the fact that sixty-one percent of Americans now live in states where same sex-marriages are legally recognized, with the number of states jumping significantly to 32 (pending in Montana, Kansas and South Carolina) from 19 states in less than a month.

“The 6th Circuit ruling is not the final say,” said Schuenemeyer. “The UCC General Synod has called on us to work for marriage equality in the face of such opposition. I hope the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the appeal at the earliest possible time.”

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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