WASHINGTON — When a federal court ruled on Louisiana’s ban on same-sex couples’ marriages earlier this month, something shocking happened: The judge upheld the ban.
U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman ruled the state’s marriage ban was constitutional — issuing the first federal court decision examining the question and finding such a ban to be constitutionally permissible in more than a year.
Even he realized this was an unusual decision. “It would no doubt be celebrated to be in the company of the near-unanimity of the many other federal courts that have spoken to this pressing issue,” Feldman wrote in his opinion.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act and dismissed the California Proposition 8 case on a technicality in June 2013, federal judges all across the country have thrown out bans on marriage for same-sex couples and bans on the recognition of marriages performed out of state, creating an avalanche of decisions rolling toward the Supreme Court. Judges from Texas to Michigan and from Oregon to Florida have ruled marriage bans unconstitutional. The nation’s top lawyers are jockeying for their cases to become The Case.
The direction and pace of the marriage decisions — their sheer velocity — is unlike any other debate in modern politics or law. In the space of a little more than a year, the timeline for any sort of legal resolution of the issue has completely shifted.
And now, on Sept. 29, the Supreme Court justices are due to consider whether to hear one or more of a handful of marriage cases that could produce the final blow. The marriage equality movement — work that began decades earlier and was full of setbacks, including DOMA itself, along the way — is on the precipice of becoming a reality.
Fifteen months ago, very few imagined this rapid a timeline. But the decisions that day, specifically what Justices Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia wrote, ultimately opened the floodgates for what followed. Of DOMA, Kennedy declared the law unconstitutional because it “instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others.” And in his dissent to that opinion, Scalia noted “how easy it is, indeed how inevitable, to reach the same conclusion with regard to state laws denying same-sex couples marital status.”