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Federal appeals court judges bristle at ‘traditional’ marriage argument

Tuesday, August 26, 2014
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Attorney Camilla Taylor, National Director of Lambda Legal’s Marriage Project, speaks to reporters following Tuesday’s hearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

Some couples whose marriages are in limbo lined up outside the 25th-floor courtroom as early as 5 a.m. Among them was Ruth Morrison, a retired Indianapolis Fire Department battalion chief. She noted that because Indiana won’t recognize the woman she married in another state as her wife, she wouldn’t be able to pass on pension and other benefits if she dies.

“Now Indiana tells us our promises are only good if our spouses are of the opposite sex,” Morrison, wearing a fire department uniform, said during a rally ahead of the hearing Monday night.

Lawyers representing both states, along with attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, a national group working for gay rights, were allotted 20 minutes each to argue their case.

Besides Posner, the judges who heard the case were Ann Claire Williams, a Bill Clinton appointee, and David Hamilton, appointed by President Barack Obama. It’s unclear when the court might issue a ruling.

A voter-approved constitutional amendment bans gay marriage in Wisconsin. State law prohibits it in Indiana. Neither state recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. The lawsuits raise similar arguments on behalf of several gay and lesbian plaintiffs, contending that the bans violate the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection guarantee.

Van Hollen noted that Wisconsin has traditionally defined marriage as a union between a man and woman. Zoeller has maintained that his state has a legitimate interest in promoting traditional marriage as a means of encouraging environments where biological parents raise their children.

The ACLU and Lambda Legal have essentially reiterated their equal protection arguments in appeals court filings, arguing that the bans deny gay couples state and federal legal protections and benefits that married straight couples enjoy.

“The freedom to marry is a core aspect of personal liberty for all Americans,” the ACLU said in its briefs.

There was some levity during the hearing. As Samuelson struggled to offer a specific reason for how gay marriage bans benefit society, he suddenly noted a yellow courtroom light signaling his allotted time was up.

“It won’t save you,” Williams told him, prompting laughter in court.

Samuleson smiled, and said: “it was worth a try.”

Developing story. This report will be updated.

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