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Fifth Circuit appeals court instructs federal judges to issue same-sex marriage rulings

John Minor Wisdom U.S. Courthouse in New Orleans,   home of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
John Minor Wisdom U.S. Courthouse in New Orleans, home of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

JACKSON, Miss. — A federal appeals court Wednesday instructed judges in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to wrap up same-sex marriage cases in their states in line with last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The order Wednesday from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals clears one of the final procedural roadblocks in the three cases, which had been pending before the New Orleans-based court. The 5th Circuit had heard arguments in the appeals, but hadn’t ruled.

The court’s ruling was issued on the same day that a federal judge in Alabama ordered a handful of counties in that state still refusing to issue gay-marriage licenses to abide by the high court’s decision.

Circuit Judge Jerry Smith, writing for the three-judge panel in New Orleans, told federal district judges in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to issue final rulings by July 17 at the latest. The appeals court told U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans that he, in particular, needed to hurry because of the declining health of one of the Louisiana plaintiffs, Robert Welles. Feldman’s attorney, Scott Spivey, declined comment.

Smith wrote in three separate opinions that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that marriage is a constitutional right equally held by all Americans “is the law of the land and, consequently, the law of this circuit, and should not be taken lightly by actors within jurisdiction of this court.”

People seeking legalization of same-sex marriage had won cases at the district level in Mississippi and Texas, but lost in Louisiana. Public officials in all three states had opposed any change, but had conceded in letters to the court in recent days that the proper course was to conclude the cases with final orders from the district judges legalizing same-sex marriage. The 5th Circuit dissolved its stay blocking lower court orders in Mississippi and Texas.

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U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves in Jackson quickly issued a final order overturning Mississippi’s constitutional and legal bans on same-sex marriage. U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio had lifted the stay blocking his injunction last week.

Mike Reed, a spokesman for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, wrote in an email that the governor still wanted a final ruling from Feldman.

“Our agencies will follow the Louisiana Constitution until the district court orders us otherwise,” Reed wrote.

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