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Judge in La. same-sex marriage case signals he may expand scope of ruling

Wednesday, June 25, 2014
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NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge in New Orleans heard arguments Wednesday on whether Louisiana must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states.

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman

Attorneys on both sides of the issue pointed to last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a federal prohibition against recognizing legal gay marriages.

Dalton Courson, an attorney for the same-sex couples, said the ruling in U.S. v. Windsor supports the contention that Louisiana’s failure to recognize legal same-sex marriages violates constitutional due process and equal-protection rights.

Attorney Kyle Duncan, arguing for the state, said the Windsor opinion clearly upholds the rights of state voters and legislatures to define marriage and that the federal government must recognize the states’ rights to do so.

“They are aggrieved,” Duncan said of same-sex couples. “But Windsor instructs us that that grievance needs to be addressed by the democratic process.”

Wednesday’s arguments centered on the marriage recognition issue but were part of a more complex consolidation of other lawsuits, including one in which a same-sex couple seeks the right to marry in Louisiana.

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U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman declined to rule on any of the issues Wednesday, saying he’d prefer not to act in a piecemeal fashion. He discussed with attorneys a schedule for further briefings and arguments.

Feldman, who closely questioned attorneys on both sides, acknowledged a growing number of cases striking down same-sex marriage bans in various states.

On the same day that Feldman heard arguments, a federal judge struck down Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage. About an hour later, marriage licenses were being issued there to same-sex couples. Elsewhere, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower-court ruling that struck down Utah’s gay marriage ban, although that ruling was put on hold pending appeal.

“There is no doubt that the echo today is to strike down laws that differentiate between traditional and same-sex marriage,” Feldman said.

Follow the cases: Robicheaux v. George and Forum for Equality Louisiana v. Barfield.

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