A federal judge upheld Louisiana’s prohibition on gay nuptials on Wednesday, marking the first decision in the federal judiciary since the Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act to determine a state ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional.
In a 32-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, a Reagan appointee, determined state laws barring same-sex couples from marrying in Louisiana comply with the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Feldman writes that plaintiffs in the lawsuit didn’t make a sufficient case on why same-sex marriage should be allowed in Louisiana, but other unions should remain illegal.
“When a federal court is obliged to confront a constitutional struggle over what is marriage, a singularly pivotal issue, the consequence of outcomes, intended or otherwise, seems an equally compelling part of the equation,” Feldman writes. “It seems unjust to ignore. And so, inconvenient questions persist. For example, must the states permit or recognize a marriage between an aunt and niece? Aunt and nephew? Brother/brother? Father and child? May minors marry? Must marriage be limited to only two people? What about a transgender spouse? Is such a union same-gender or male-female? All such unions would undeniably be equally committed to love and caring for one another, just like the plaintiffs.”
Feldman issued the ruling in the consolidated case of Robicheaux v. Caldwell, which was filed by private attorneys on behalf of six same-sex couples who wed in another state and wanted Louisiana to recognize their unions; another same-sex couple who sought to marry in the Pelican State; and the LGBT group Forum for Equality Louisiana.
Now that the decision has been handed down, attorneys for plaintiff same-sex couples have the option of appealing the case to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. A decision from federal judge overturning Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage is already pending on appeal before the court.
Derek Penton, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said options for moving forward are under review when asked by the Washington Blade if attorneys would appeal the ruling to the Fifth Circuit, which is known as conservative court.
“We have read and are disappointed in the decision,” Penton said. “We will continue to explore all of our options. We have always known that this would not be the end-all decision for the parties involved. We will continue to move forward.”
The ruling bucks the trend of more than 30 federal courts across the country that have determined in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision against DOMA that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.
Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, called the decision a “roadblock” on the path toward a nationwide ruling for marriage equality established by 21 other federal court rulings.
“Ultimately the nine justices of the Supreme Court of the United States will be asked to decide whether committed and loving gay and lesbian couples should be denied an institution that they, themselves, have deemed a constitutional right more than a dozen times,” Warbelow said. “We firmly believe that justice will ultimately be done.”
But at least one other court at the state level has found a ban on same-sex marriage to be constitutional. That decision was rendered by Ninth Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Russell Simmons Jr. of Kingston, Tenn., who upheld Tennessee’s prohibition on same-sex nuptials.
Brian Brown, president of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, said the Louisiana ruling dispels the myth that a nationwide decision in favor of marriage equality is inevitable.
“Here we see the house of cards collapsing that supported the myth that redefining marriage is inevitable,” Brown said. “This decision by Judge Feldman in Louisiana is a great win for the cause of marriage, coming as it does on the heels of other pro-marriage court victories, that puts the lie to the claim that it is inevitable the US Supreme Court will redefine marriage. To the contrary, we believe they will leave this issue with the states.”