Judge Upholds Louisiana's Ban on Gay Marriage

Wednesday, 03 Sep 2014 09:08 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Deciding that other jurists had gone too far, a federal district judge in New Orleans on Wednesday upheld Louisiana's prohibition on gay marriage.

"The Court is persuaded that a meaning of what is marriage that has endured in history for thousands of years, and prevails in a majority of states today, is not universally irrational on the constitutional grid," U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman wrote in his decision.

Since a June 2013 Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, nearly 30 federal and state courts have ruled against bans on same-sex marriage at the state level.

One Tennessee state judge upheld a ban, but no federal judge had done so until Wednesday.

The legal thinking has primarily held that bans on gay marriage are unconstitutional because they violate the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment, Southern California Public Radio notes.

But Feldman, who was nominated to the federal bench in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan, found some ambiguities in the historic high court ruling, including that it never decided sexual orientation enjoys federal protected-class status .

"So, is there even any rational basis for Louisiana's resistance to recognize same-sex marriages entered into in other states, or to authorize same-sex marriages in Louisiana?" the judge writes. "Plaintiffs contend not, and conclude that Louisiana's laws and Constitution can only be supported by a hateful animus.

"Defendants rejoin that the laws serve a central state interest of linking children to an intact family formed by their biological parents. Of even more consequence, in this Court's judgment, defendants assert a legitimate state interest in safeguarding that fundamental social change, in this instance, is better cultivated through democratic consensus. This Court agrees."

The judge adds:

"Louisiana's laws and Constitution are directly related to achieving marriage's historically preeminent purpose of linking children to their biological parents. Louisiana's regime pays respect to the democratic process; to vigorous debate. To predictable controversy, of course. The fact that marriage has many differing, even perhaps unproved dimensions, does not render Louisiana's decision irrational."

In an interview with The New York Times, Cornell University Law School professor Michael Dorf described Feldman's decision as an "outlier, but a well-crafted outlier."

"He had the tools available to him because of some confusion in the [Supreme Court] decision," the professor said

The high court is expected to take up at least one of the lower court cases during its next term, which starts next month. The three pending cases the court could choose are from Virginia, Utah and Oklahoma.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, said the ruling "puts the lie to the claim that it is inevitable the U.S. Supreme Court will redefine marriage. To the contrary, we believe they will leave this issue with the states."

The plaintiffs will appeal, said Sarah Jane Brady, executive director of Forum for Equality, a Louisiana-based group that's among the plaintiffs.

"Love is love no matter where you live," she said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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