For the first time since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal judge has upheld the rights of citizens of a state to preserve its law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
As ABC News reports, Judge Martin Feldman of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana upheld the wishes of Louisiana’s voters and the state’s constitution in his 32-page opinion released Wednesday.
“Louisiana’s laws and constitution are directly related to achieving marriage’s historically preeminent purpose of linking children to their biological parents,” Feldman, a Reagan appointee, wrote. “The court is persuaded that a meaning of what is marriage that has endured in history for thousands of years, and prevails in a majority of states today, is not universally irrational on the constitutional grid.”
The judge cited the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor, which struck down DOMA, and quoted Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion, observing that it relied upon the principles of federalism.
Additionally, Feldman expressed concern about the use of equal-protection language in other parts of the Windsor decision:
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.
The Family Research Council (FRC) noted also that Feldman wrote, “[t]he State of Louisiana has a legitimate interest under a rational basis standard of review for addressing the meaning of marriage through the democratic process.”
“This ruling is a victory for children, each of whom need and desire a mom and dad, something our public policy should encourage,” said FRC president Tony Perkins. “This decision is a victory for the rule [of] law, and for religious liberty and free speech which are undermined anywhere marriage is redefined.”
“We commend Judge Feldman for refraining from judicial activism and recognizing that Louisiana voters are free to uphold natural marriage in their state’s public policy,” Perkins added. “He rightly declared that the Courts have no authority to unilaterally change the definition of our most fundamental social institution.”
Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress, however, was quick to condemn Feldman’s ruling.
“After a disastrous losing streak in the federal courts – every single federal court to consider the question after the Supreme Court struck down the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2013 has sided against marriage discrimination,” Millhiser said, “Team Anti-Gay finally found a single court in Louisiana that was willing to stand up for the principle that same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry.”
However, Byron Banione of Alliance Defending Freedom praised Feldman’s decision.
“The people of Louisiana – and the people of every state – should continue to have the authority to affirm marriage as the union of a man and a woman in their laws,” Banione said. “The district court in this case was right to conclude, as the U.S. Supreme Court did in its Windsor decision last year, that marriage law is the business of the states.”
The case will likely be appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Last month, a Tennessee county circuit court ruled that the state’s amendment banning legal recognition of same-sex marriage is constitutional.
Citing the 1972 decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court in the case Baker v. Nelson that the Constitution does not protect “a fundamental right” for same-sex couples to get married, Roane County Circuit Court Judge Russell E. Simmons, Jr. wrote, “Baker holds that a state’s law on same-sex marriage does not violate the equal protection or substantive due process rights under the United States Constitution.”
“Although the United States Supreme Court has had opportunities to overrule the Baker decision, it has refused to take that position even in the decision on which the plaintiff relies, which is United States v. Windsor,” Simmons continued.
“The Court finds that marriage is a fundamental right,” the judge added. “However, neither the Tennessee Supreme Court nor the United States Supreme Court has ever decided that this fundamental right under a state’s laws extends beyond the traditional definition of marriage as a union between one (1) man and one (1) woman.”