Wisconsin, Indiana same-sex marriage rulings upheld by federal appeals court
Written by Anthony Moujaes
Another federal appeals court in the United States has affirmed the rulings of lower courts, in this case in Wisconsin and Indiana, that denying all people the freedom to marry is unconstitutional. With the marriage equality movement creeping up the legal ladder, leaders of the United Church of Christ believe that people of faith who support LGBT rights will help make marriage equality the law of the land in every state.
The Seventh Circuit Court unanimously ruled on Thursday, Sept. 4, that the two states wrongly discriminate against LGBT people by restricting their right to marry. The decision follows similar rulings by the 10th Circuit Court (Utah and Oklahoma) and Fourth Circuit Court (Virginia).
“We congratulate Wisconsin and Indiana on this significant step toward marriage equality for all people, and we celebrate with the many UCC congregations and pastors in those conferences who have been working to open hearts and change minds so that this momentous day might become possible,” said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, a UCC national officer.
“The day is surely coming when the freedom to marry will be guaranteed for all couples, regardless of gender, across our nation, and it makes me proud that the United Church of Christ has played such a significant leadership role in this movement,” Guess said. “If not already, one day soon we will all look back and marvel at what courageous faith can achieve.”
In his opinion, Judge Richard Posner chided arguments from lawyers defending Indiana’s same-sex marriage ban, who claimed the law was a way to reign in irresponsible sexual behavior.
“Heterosexuals get drunk and pregnant, producing unwanted children; their reward is to be allowed to marry,” Posner wrote. “Homosexual couples do not produce unwanted children; their reward is to be denied the right to marry. Go figure.”
The Wisconsin Conference of the UCC was the most recent conference to complete the Open and Affirming process, as delegates adopted the measure during the annual meeting in June, making Thursday’s court ruling that much sweeter.
The Wisconsin Conference began the Open and Affirming process about a decade ago, and while it was functioning as an ONA setting, there was a “dream to make it official, in public affirmation and name as well,” said the Rev. Michael Obenauer, interim conference minister.
“When conference leaders would consult during this time with local churches regarding the possibility of the local church becoming ONA, local leaders — particularly pastors — would say it would easier if the Conference did it first to model how it could be done,” he added.
The Wisconsin Conference LGBT Task Force set a goal, resolving that the conference would begin to adopt an ONA policy when 25 percent of the local churches in the conference became ONA. That goal was reached a year ago.
“The result of the conference vote to become ONA has fostered more openness to, and inclusion of all people, particularly LGBT people, in the life and community of the conference,” Obenauer said.
Now there are 19 states, and the District of Columbia, that recognize the right of all citizens to marry the person they love. All together, 33 states either recognize marriage equality or have seen state marriage bans struck down as unconstitutional in various courts. The lone exception is in Louisiana, where a federal judge just upheld that states’ ban against same-sex marriages.
Change is likely on the horizon as well in North Carolina, where the General Synod of the UCC filed a lawsuit against the state claiming First and Fourteenth Amendments violations. That case remains on hold pending the outcome of a same-sex marriage case in Virginia, which is in the same circuit as North Carolina. Federal judges in North Carolina are awaiting the final ruling on the Virginia case, which has been appealed to the Supreme Court.
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