Federal Judge Upholds Louisiana's Ban On Gay Marriage

The decision marks the first time a federal court has upheld a gay marriage ban since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year.

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

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And I'm Don Gonyea. A federal judge in Louisiana says the state has a right to ban same-sex marriage. The ruling yesterday is a setback for gay rights groups who have been waging legal battles around the country and who have been on a winning streak. The decision marks the first time a federal court has upheld a gay marriage ban since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Federal Defense of Marriage Act last year. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman of New Orleans ruled Louisiana has a legitimate interest in, quote, "addressing the meaning of marriage through the democratic process." In 2004, Louisiana voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as only the union of one man and one woman. Judge Feldman ruled against same-sex couples who sued to have their marriages performed elsewhere legally recognized in Louisiana.

JACKIE BRETTNER: I feel a little bit like the wind has been knocked out of me.

ELLIOTT: New Orleans attorney Jackie Brettner and her partner Lauren are among those who sued.

BRETTNER: I think my reaction was to be taken aback. We had had so many successes for so long. I think a lot of us had gotten to the place where we thought that this was inevitable. And when I say this, I mean victory and equality.

ELLIOTT: In the past year, more than 20 rulings have struck down state same-sex marriage bans as unconstitutional. The Louisiana ruling stands in stark contrast.

LEANNA BAUMER: Well, I think it's an important caution to those who have been trumpeting a narrative of inevitability on the question of marriage.

ELLIOTT: Leanna Baumer is with the Family Research Council.

BAUMER: The Supreme Court has not settled a number of questions related to marriage, one of the most important being whether or not same-sex marriage is a constitutional right.

ELLIOTT: The Family Research Council and other groups opposed to gay marriage called the Louisiana federal court ruling a victory for state sovereignty and traditional marriage. Baumer says Judge Feldman answered two key questions in the marriage debate.

BAUMER: What is marriage, and who gets to decide? And ultimately, Judge Feldman ruled that it's the state of Louisiana - it's the people of Louisiana who get to answer those questions.

ELLIOTT: Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell put out a statement saying it's refreshing to see this recognition of the right of states to manage their own affairs. Last night in the New Orleans French Quarter, gay rights activists gathered in protest.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SARAH JANE BRADY: Good morning everybody. Can you hear me?

ELLIOTT: Sarah Jane Brady is executive director of Forum for Equality Louisiana, also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Using a bullhorn to address the small crowd, she says they will not be deterred.

BRADY: Supporters of equality and believers of human dignity may have lost this battle but we have love, and love will win the war.

(APPLAUSE)

ELLIOTT: Lawyers for the forum say they will appeal Judge Feldman's decision to Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. For plaintive Jackie Brettner, the fight shouldn't end there.

BRETTNER: I'm hopeful that with the inevitable appeal that's going to take place now in the Fifth Circuit, that this ruling, while it is a setback, will be a driving force, since it is the single dissenting opinion at the federal level, to get this issue before the Supreme Court and resolve it once and for all.

ELLIOTT: Three states have already asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up whether states can ban same-sex marriage. Both sides of the debate are anxious for the answer. Debbie Elliott, NPR News.

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