WASHINGTON (CNS) — Federal judges in Arkansas and Mississippi Nov. 25 struck down laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. Both orders were stayed until the states have time to consider whether to appeal.
Those rulings brought to 35 the number of states where laws or courts have said same-sex marriages are legal. The highest courts to take up such cases, the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal, have split unevenly, with four circuits allowing such marriages and one saying states should be allowed to decide for themselves. The other federal circuits all have cases in some level of appeal.
Meanwhile, both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage are preparing appeals to the Supreme Court, asking it to weigh in on that disparity among circuits. In early October the high court declined to accept any of the seven same-sex marriage cases, affecting five states, that it was asked to review. All the cases had the effect of allowing such marriages. Several weeks later the 6th Circuit ruled differently.
The Arkansas and Missouri rulings came on the heels of a Nov. 19 ruling in Montana. There, a federal District Court judge said Montana’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to a man and a woman violates the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes Montana, had ruled in September that the same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada are unconstitutional.
Judge Brian Morris in Montana cited the 9th Circuit ruling and said his order would take effect immediately. The Montana Standard newspaper reported Nov. 24 that marriage licenses had been issued to same-sex couples in several counties, but not in others.
The decisions by Arkansas and Mississippi District Court judges would be appealed to the 8th and 5th Circuits, respectively.
The 5th Circuit will probably in January consider appeals of rulings over marriage laws from Texas and Louisiana. A Texas District Court judge in February struck down that state’s ban. In September a Louisiana District Court judge upheld that state’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexual couples.
The 4th, 7th, 9th and 10th Circuit Courts have all ruled that prohibitions on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. The 6th Circuit in early November became the highest court to uphold a ban.
In that 2-1 ruling the court said the question is no longer whether same-sex marriage will be allowed in the United States, but when and how. The two judges said it is better “to allow change through the customary political processes,” than through court rulings.
Also among actions related to same-sex marriage in November, the Catholic bishops of Kansas weighed in on the Nov. 4 ruling by a District Court judge overturning that state’s marriage ban and the Nov. 7 decision by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court not to block the ruling from taking effect pending appeal. The Supreme Court on Nov. 12 declined to block the ruling from taking effect.
In a Nov. 13 statement, the four bishops of Kansas observed that 70 percent of Kansas voters in 2005 “chose to protect the institution of marriage.”
They said that the church’s teaching on marriage “is not simply a ‘position’ on a political issue, because marriage is not a creation of the state … (but) part of the natural order instituted by God.”
Catholic teaching upholds the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman and says that any sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful. The church also teaches that homosexual attraction itself is not sinful and that homosexual people “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.”
The bishops concluded their statement by saying they “pray for a restoration of respect for the true meaning of marriage in our country. We pray that those individuals who experience same-sex attraction find comfort in the love of God as they strive to live in accordance with God’s will.”
It was signed by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Salina, Bishop John B. Brungardt of Dodge City and Bishop Carl A. Kemme of Wichita.