Attorneys from four states argued six challenges to traditional marriage laws on Wednesday before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. Federal judges recently overturned statewide bans on same-sex marriage in Kentucky and Michigan, forced Ohio to recognize marriages outside the state by listing same-sex spouses on birth and death certificates, and ordered Tennessee in spite of its state constitution to recognize three same-sex couples married outside the state. This week’s appeals to those rulings mark the beginning of yet another fight to defend state laws from federal intrusion, and to protect marriage from mockery.
“We’re not required to honor a license from another state, just like I have a concealed carry license that can’t be recognized in other states,” said Phil Burress, president of Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values. Burress has fought for biblical marriage since 1995, helping spread Defense of Marriage Acts to 38 states and working with James Dobson, Chuck Colson, Tony Perkins, and other conservative leaders in the Arlington Group to amend 31 state constitutions in favor of marriage between one man and one woman.
Burress told me federal courts have no business taking state licensing into their own hands: “In some states, even first cousins can marry if I’m not mistaken. But in our state they can’t, so are they going to rule on that too?” If any of the appeals in Cincinnati reach the nation’s highest judges, he believes “the Supreme Court, if they have an ounce of dignity and understand the United States Constitution, that they have to say this is a states rights issue.”
The three judges presiding over Wednesday’s hearings didn’t say when they would rule on the cases. Hundreds of same-sex activists surrounded the courthouse in the afternoon, among them a man in a strapless white wedding gown whose male partner wore a slightly more traditional black suit and sunglasses. “It’s a statement, really,” said Jon Bradford, 26, the mock bride from Covington, Ky. “We want to be married.”
For all the cries of “equality” resounding from LGBTQ groups nationwide, 96.6 percent of the U.S. population still identifies as straight, according to a survey the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in July. Only 1.6 percent of 35,000 participating adults considered themselves gay or lesbian.
Jeff Parker, 53, a Cincinnati resident, showed up at the courthouse to take a stand for traditional marriage. “I’m just praying for God’s will to be done,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of faith in the courts.”
Inside the courtroom, Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey seemed skeptical of attorneys representing the states, saying “it doesn’t look like the sky has fallen in” in states where same-sex marriage is legal. David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, told me she referred to state constitutions as “dynamic” documents: “Justice Daughtrey, who’s from Tennessee, seemed to be someone who … had her mind made up, that it was all about equality, and that the state had no reasonable basis to exclude same-sex couples from the institution of marriage.”
The other two judges are nominees of President George W. Bush. Fowler said Judge Jeffrey Sutton seemed ready to defend marriage and thought Judge Deborah Cook, who asked a lot of questions, would decide the vote in either direction.
If judges in Cincinnati or Washington, D.C., force states to recognize their neighbors’ licenses and public policies, Fowler told me, “you really are talking about a nationalized government.”