In what appears to be the circuit split the U.S. Supreme Court has been waiting for, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld same-sex marriage bans in four states Thursday. While this 2-to-1 ruling surely counts as a loss, it may be exactly what proponents of marriage equality have been waiting for. When asked in September when the Supreme Court might take up marriage, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said to keep an eye on the Sixth Circuit. That we did, and now we’re hoping the high court will determine once and for all that marriage equality is the law of the land.
Writing for the majority, Judge Joe Sutton said, “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. Better in this instance, we think, to allow change through the customary political processes, in which the people, gay and straight alike, become the heroes of their own stories by meeting each other not as adversaries in a court system but as fellow citizens seeking to resolve a new social issue in a fair-minded way.”
Thursday’s ruling was the first time a court at that level has upheld a state marriage ban since the historic victories for marriage equality in 2013 – the striking down of Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the dismantling of California’s Prop. 8. Since then, LGBT advocates have ridden a wave of victories in courts at all levels. (A few weeks ago, in what was clearly the exception, not the rule, a federal judge upheld Puerto Rico’s ban on marriage equality.)