After a recent series of stunning marriage equality victories in the US, an appeals court has shocked the country’s LGBT community by backing the ban on gay marriage in four states.
Yesterday, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned lower court rulings that struck down bans on marriage equality in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.
Two of the three appeals court judges justified their support for the bans by arguing that the courts should not be the mechanism through which to decide on issues such as same-sex marriage.
“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,” wrote Judge Jeffrey Sutton.
The dissenting judge, Martha Craig Daughtry, slammed her colleagues in a blistering rebuttal.
She accused the other two judges of painting the plaintiffs as “political zealots trying to push reform on their fellow citizens,” instead of recognising them as “persons, suffering actual harm…” because of being unable to exercise “a civil right that most of us take for granted – the right to marry.”
Daughtry added: “If we in the judiciary do not have authority, and indeed the responsibility, to fight fundamental wrongs left excused by a majority of the electorate, our whole intricate, constitutional system of checks and balances, as well as the oaths to which we were swore, prove to be nothing but shams.”
She insisted that one of the judiciary’s roles is to “ensure that rights, liberties, and duties need not be held hostage by popular whims.”
Until Thursday, no state marriage ban had survived a federal circuit court ruling. The latest ruling is in conflict with a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States last month to allow earlier pro-marriage equality rulings from the Fourth, Seventh and Tenth Circuits to stand.
This has resulted, said LGBT rights activists, in a “circuit court split,” which could lead the Supreme Court to step in to settle the judicial inconsistency.
“The legacies of Judges Deborah Cook and Jeffrey Sutton will forever be cemented on the wrong side of history,” commented Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Chad Griffin.
“Gay and lesbian couples in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee are just as deserving of marriage equality as the rest of America. Now, more than ever before, the Supreme Court of the United States must take up the issue and decide once and for all whether the Constitution allows for such blatant discrimination,” he said.