A final ruling on the constitutionality of gay marriage bans might be approaching, as the U.S. Supreme Court could commit to settling the long-lasting controversy on Friday.
Justices will consider reviewing five newly appealed cases affirming gay marriage bans from states within the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee — as well as Louisiana in the 5th Circuit. All cases taken up in the 2014-15 term will be decided by the end of June.
Justices declined to review several circuit court rulings in October, which led to legal gay marriage in several states, including North Carolina.
Chris Brook, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said these five cases are more likely to get the high court’s attention because the 6th Circuit’s ruling conflicts with other court decisions.
“We’ve finally had a circuit court that held that there was not a constitutional right to marriage for gays and lesbians,” Brook said. “(It’s a) huge sign of the progress that we’ve made as a nation if the Supreme Court reverses the 6th Circuit’s decision and strikes down the marriage bans that were upheld.”
Maxine Eichner, a UNC law professor, said the October decision had consequences.
“If they were inclined to say that the federal constitution doesn’t speak to this issue, they would have been inclined to do that before,” she said.
N.C. Senate Leader Phil Berger, who in October called for a bill to protect the religious freedom of state officials to not perform gay marriages, could not be reached for comment.
Chris Stoll, senior staff attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights and counsel to the plaintiffs in the Tennessee case, said the Supreme Court should protect minority rights when politics perpetuate inequalities.
“When fundamental rights are being denied to a group of our citizens, that’s exactly why we have a constitution, that’s exactly why we have federal courts,” Stoll said.
Stoll said the center hopes the justices will hear arguments this spring, but he said a delay could cause arguments to be pushed back to the fall.
But Jere Royall, counsel for the N.C. Family Policy Council, said in an email he hopes the court follows a precedent that declares marriage a state issue.
He said there is strong support for marriage being defined as the union between a man and a woman — what Royall describes as the “rational basis” determined by the 6th Circuit.
“Children are created through the union of their father and mother, and all of history has shown the best environment for raising children is with their married father and mother,” he said.
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