Post submitted by Charlie Joughin, HRC Press Secretary
Backed up by Indiana plaintiffs, American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk (John Konstantaras/AP Images for HRC)
Today the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in two cases challenging state bans on marriage equality – one case out of Indiana and the other out of Wisconsin. Those cases were on appeal to the Seventh Circuit after federal district courts struck down the states’ marriage bans as unconstitutional. Check out what went down today, and be sure to see photos of the plaintiffs, their families and their attorneys at the court house this morning!
(L-R) Steven Stolen, Rob MacPherson and Abbey MacPherson-Stolen, from Indianapolis, Ind. (John Konstantaras/AP Images for HRC)
(L-R) Wisconsin plaintiffs Virginia Wolf and Carol Schumacher from Eau Claire (John Konstantaras/AP Images for HRC)
The cases were argued before a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit. Each was randomly assigned to hear these cases, and their names were announced this morning. Judge Richard Posner was appointed to the Seventh Circuit by President Ronald Reagan, and is considered to be one of the top legal thinkers in America. Judge Ann Claire Williams was nominated to the Seventh Circuit by President Bill Clinton. Previously she served as a federal district court judge in Illinois, having been appointed by President Ronald Reagan. Judge David F. Hamilton was nominated to the Seventh Circuit by President Barak Obama. Before that he was a federal district court judge, nominated to that bench by President Bill Clinton.
(L-R) Wisconsin plaintiffs Karina Willes, holding their 5 month old daughter Olivia, and Kami Young (John Konstantaras/AP Images for HRC)
WHAT WENT DOWN TODAY
We likely won’t have a ruling from the Seventh Circuit on these cases for a few weeks or months, although there is no rule that dictates when a decision will come down. What we do know is that the judges asked very pointed questions of the attorneys on both sides of the argument in these cases.
(L-R) Indiana plaintiffs, Ruth Morrison, a retired battalion chief with the Indianapolis Fire Department, and Karen Vaughn (John Konstantaras/AP Images for HRC)
Click here to listen to the audio from arguments in each case:
BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner referred to today as, “the most lopsided arguments over marriage bans at a federal appeals court this year.”
Within minutes of Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher taking to the podium to start his arguments, the tone was set.
“Why do you prefer heterosexual adoption to homosexual adoption?” Judge Posner asked. When Fisher began responding that the marriage laws were unrelated to adoption, Posner was almost vitriolic in his response, saying of the state’s treatment of the children of same-sex couples, “You want them to be worse off.”
The reason for Posner’s unbending focus on the impact of the marriage ban became clear later in the arguments, when he talked about the “harrowing” stories of the discrimination faced by the children of same-sex couples that were detailed in the Family Equality Council’s amicus curiae, or friend-of-the-court, brief submitted in the Wisconsin case.
Camilla Taylor, with Lambda Legal (second from right) walks down from the courtroom (John Konstantaras/AP for HRC)
There are over 70 court cases challenging discriminatory marriage bans across the country in 30 of the 31 states where such a ban exists, plus Puerto Rico. Aside from the two cases before the Seventh Circuit, cases from nine other states are currently pending before four federal appeals courts. The Tenth and Fourth Circuits both recently upheld rulings striking down state bans on marriage equality – Kitchen v. Herbert of Utah and Bishop v. Smith of Oklahoma in the Tenth Circuit, and Bostic v. Shaefer of Virginia in the Fourth Circuit. In total, 33 states either have marriage equality or have seen state marriage bans struck down as unconstitutional in federal or state court. Since the Supreme Court’s historic marriage rulings last year, there have been 21 consecutive federal court decisions that bans on marriage equality are unconstitutional. These rulings have come from judges appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents.
(L to R) Wisconsin plaintiffs Judy Trampf and Katy Heyning talk with the media (John Konstantaras/AP Images for HRC)
The Supreme Court is under no obligation as to which case or cases – if any – it choses to hear on appeal. However, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently told reporters the Court will not “duck” a marriage case. "I think the court will not do what they did in the old days when they continually ducked the issue of miscegenation," Ginsburg said. "If a case is properly before the court, they will take it."
For more information on these cases or the dozens of others across the country challenging state bans on marriage equality, visit AmericansForMarriageEquality.org.