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Federal Court Deals A Victory For Opponents Of Same-Sex Marriage


In Louisiana today a federal judge upheld the state's gay marriage ban. The ruling stands out at a time of many court decisions on same-sex marriage. And that's because it runs counter to the more than 20 rulings this year, all considered victories for supporters of gay marriage. NPR's Debbie Elliott has been following these cases and joins us now.

And Debbie, this lawsuit was brought by several same-sex couples fighting the ban in Louisiana. Explain the judge's ruling.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Well, his basic premise was that states have a right to define the institution of marriage. And to give you a little background here, in 2004 voters in Louisiana approved a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as only the union of one man and one woman and it prohibits the state from recognizing marriages that are outside of that definition. So these same-sex couples sued, saying, we got married out of state where it is legal. Now we've - you know, we live in Louisiana, we have a legal marriage, but you're discriminating against us in matters ranging from adoption to taxes - and that's a violation of our right to equal protection and due process under the U.S. Constitution.

Today, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman of New Orleans disagreed; rejected that argument outright, siding with the state's position that Louisiana has a quote, "legitimate interest in addressing the meaning of marriage through the democratic process."

CORNISH: Ever since the Supreme Court struck down the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, last year, we've seen so many other courts strike down gay marriage bans in the states. I mean, what might explain the different outcome here?

ELLIOTT: Well, I think it's the judge. And in his opinion he acknowledges such. He says he knows his interpretation runs counter to these recent rulings that have struck down gay marriage bans in the state. And he talked about what he called, quote, "today's blurry notion of the evolving understanding of equality."

He wrote that any right to same-sex marriage is not yet so entrenched as to be fundamental.

And just to sort of give the lay of the land here, about 19 states and the District of Columbia have legal - allow - same-sex marriage. And in other states, where we've seen all these court cases where some form or another of a ban exist.

He went on to say that if there's this new established point of view that marriages will be reduced to contract law and anyone will be able to claim marriage, you know, what's next, he said - minors? An aunt and a niece? Must marriage be limited to only two people, he questions. So he has some pretty serious views on this.

CORNISH: Now what happens next in Louisiana? But also, elsewhere in the country?

ELLIOTT: Well, in Louisiana in the immediate short term, a spokesman for the gay rights group Forum for Equality Louisiana says an appeal is planned. That appeal would go to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. There are appeals courts around the country where these cases are pending. Two have ruled, most recently in Virginia, where the Fourth Circuit said that state's gay marriage ban was unconstitutional. But the U.S. Supreme Court stopped that from being enforced and said, well wait a minute, we'll give you a chance to appeal to us, to the U.S. Supreme Court. And that's where this question is now headed.

CORNISH: Debbie, thank you.

ELLIOTT: Thank you.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott speaking with us about a federal judge's ruling in Louisiana upholding that state's ban on same-sex marriage. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.