U.S. appeals court conflicted over gay marriages cases

Wed Aug 6, 2014 6:45pm EDT
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By Lawrence Hurley

CINCINNATI Ohio (Reuters) - In a sign that gay-marriage rights could lose momentum in U.S. courts, the three judges on a federal appeals court in Cincinnati appeared divided on Wednesday when they weighed cases from four states.

Since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2013, more than 20 courts in succession have ruled in favor of gay marriage. Based on the oral arguments that took place on Wednesday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals may not follow suit.

The court's consideration of the issue comes at a crucial stage in the legal fight over gay marriage. Experts anticipate that the Supreme Court will take up one or more cases in its term beginning in October and running until June 2015.

Lawyers, plaintiffs and reporters packed the ornate, wood-paneled Cincinnati courtroom during three hours of hearings. Several spectators had babies on their laps. Beforehand, a small group of gay rights activists gathered on the street outside the courthouse.

The three-judge panel, two Republican appointees and one Democratic, was considering six cases that have worked their way up from lower courts in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

As with other cases around the nation, the court must weigh individual rights versus the power of states to define marriage.

Republican appointee Judge Jeffrey Sutton repeatedly questioned whether voters rather than courts should decide whether gay marriage is legal. Sutton is respected within legal circles and his views could help sway the five conservative members of the Supreme Court.

The panel's sole Democratic appointee, Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey, was the only member who clearly signaled support for plaintiffs seeking recognition for gay marriage.   Continued...

Mike Woods, 28, and Brandon Parsons, 30, embrace on the Pennsylvania State Capital steps following a rally with gay rights supporters after a ruling struck down a ban on same sex marriage in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, May 20, 2014.  REUTERS/Mark Makela