What the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision Means For Marriage Equality
By Alexandra Temblador
On Thursday, November 6, 2014, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld four state’s same-sex marriage bans. This ruling contrasts with four other circuit courts of appeals, the 4th, 7th, 9th, and 10th, who overturned the same-sex marriage bans in their regions. This ruling by the 6th Circuit Court is significant because it is the first court of appeals to uphold same-sex marriage bans in the United States making it likely that the Supreme Court will be pressured to hear an appeals from the region and finally make a federal decision on gay marriage.
Political Science 101 might have been a few years ago so let’s break down the courts system to get a better understanding of the 6th Circuit Court’s decision:
The federal court system is split into three parts: the Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal, and the District Courts.
There are 94 district courts, the lowest level of the judiciary courts system.
The U.S. 6th Circuit Court belongs to the intermediate court level: the Federal Courts of Appeal. There are 12 regions that make up the 12 circuit courts which includes the District of Columbia.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States and hears appeals from state supreme courts and federal circuit courts.
Most cases begin in the lower district courts and work their way up to the Supreme Court. Although in certain cases, the case can move up and down between the courts.
In terms of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, the circuit court and the parties involved could do a few things:
1) The 6th Circuit Court could send the case back to the district court.
2) Those involved in the case can request a rehearing by the circuit court; an “en banc,” a rehearing by the panel of all the judges appointed to that circuit court.
3) One of the parties can request a certiorari, an appeal directly to the Supreme Court.
As you may remember on October 6th, 2014, the Supreme Court denied appeals from five states. By denying to hear the appeals, rulings that overturned same-sex marriage bans were upheld, setting a precedent for the nation: that the Supreme Court was not ready to come to a decision on gay marriage and handed the power to the lower federal courts. However, with this split decision among the federal circuit courts it seems most likely that the Supreme Court will be forced to finally make a nationwide decision.
By moving quickly, an appeal could be ready by January which means the Supreme Court could grant a review in the spring and the gay right’s movement could have a nationwide decision on same-sex marriage by June or at the latest, fall of 2015.
Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton, one of the two judges that voted in favor of the 2-1 ruling of the 6th Circuit Court, stated:
Better in this instance, we think, to allow change through the customary political processes, in which the people, gay and straight alike, become the heroes of their own stories by meeting each other not as adversaries in a court system but as fellow citizens seeking to resolve a new social issue in a fair-minded way.
Sutton seems to have forgotten that new social issues have long been “resolved” through the “customary political process” of the courts; for instance, social issues like interracial marriage, abortion laws, and women’s right to vote. As Martha Craig Daughtrey, the only opposing vote in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, said:
If we in the judiciary do not have the authority, and indeed the responsibility, to right fundamental wrongs left excused by a majority of the electorate, our whole intricate, constitutional system of checks and balances, as well as the oaths to which we swore, prove to be nothing but shams.
Soon enough we might have a chance to witness the United States Supreme Court take responsibility and right the fundamental wrong of the current status of marriage equality in the United States and make history in 2015.
Photo Credit: Flickr Member: Purple Sherbet Photography
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