Updated: 3:00 p.m. EDT
CINCINNATI — A federal appeals court began to hear arguments Wednesday in six gay marriage fights from four states – Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee – in the biggest such session on the issue so far, and hundreds of supporters rallied near the courthouse.
Three judges of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati considered arguments that pit states’ rights and traditional, conservative values against what plaintiffs’ attorneys say is a fundamental right to marry under the U.S. Constitution.
Michigan’s and Kentucky’s cases stem from rulings striking down each state’s gay marriage bans. Ohio’s case deals only with the state’s recognition of out-of-state gay marriages, while Tennessee’s is narrowly focused on the rights of three same-sex couples.
Michigan’s solicitor general, Aaron Lindstrom, opened the afternoon by saying that any change in the state’s ban on same-sex marriage should come through the political process.
“The most basic right we have as a people is to decide public policy questions on our own,” he said.
Fundamental constitutional rights shouldn’t be decided in popular votes, countered attorney Carole Stanyar, who represents the plaintiffs in a case that began when a lesbian couple sued over state law barring them from jointly adopting their children.
“The Michigan marriage amendment gutted the democratic process,” she said.
Attorneys on both sides in the Michigan and Ohio cases were to go first and get a half-hour each to make their cases. Kentucky and Tennessee will follow, with 15 minutes for each side from both states.
In nearby Fountain Square, advocates held up banners and signs urging freedom to marry or other messages in favor of the legal challenges to the bans. The crowd included couples who married in states where same-sex marriages are legal and other longtime couples who said they are waiting for it to become legal in their home states.