Attorneys and supporters filled U.S. District Court this morning to hear arguments over Louisiana's refusal to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages. However, following more than an hour of oral arguments over recognition of those marriages, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman surprised the courtroom when he decided he will not make a "piecemeal" ruling on same-sex marriages and will also rule on the state's constitutional ban of performing those marriages here.
"All of the prior discussions we had had, we thought it was fairly narrow what he was going to be deciding, which was recognizing out-of-state marriages," said Mary Griggs, chair of Forum For Equality, which along with six same-sex couples filed the lawsuit against the state. "I thought that was surprising."
"This is a big surprise," echoed Forum For Equality's past chair John Hill. "He originally asked briefs from arguments in the recognition issue. Today he said 'no, I don’t want to do this, I want to make a global decision and not do it piecemeal.'"
Feldman will issue a timetable for more hearings. Chris Otten, chair-elect for Forum For Equality, said he expects Feldman will issue a "thorough and well-reasoned opinion."
"It’s premature to opine on that," Otten said. "It was evident today he was well-prepared and attorneys on both sides were well-prepared. I don’t think anything was left on the table today."
Plaintiffs Jacqueline Brettner and her partner Lauren were married in New York in 2012. Jacqueline and the suit's other plaintiffs appeared at today's hearings.
"If I had to ask any of my heterosexual friends in an opposite sex marriage, which of their fundamental rights they would be willing to put to a vote, I think that would be a very difficult question to answer, if not impossible," she said. "If you ask the same people which of their fundamental rights with respect to their spouse or even their children they would be willing to put to a popular vote on the 50-50 chance they could lose it, I think that’s an impossible question. ... The court and all of those who argued today did a very good job of putting those issues before the court and I look forward to being on the right side of history."
The plaintiffs in the suit include John Robicheaux and Derek Penton (married in Iowa in 2012), Courtney and Nadine Blanchard (married in Iowa in 2013), Nick Van Sickels and Andrew Bond (married in Washington D.C. in 2012), Henry Lambert and Carey Bond (married in New York in 2011), and Harvard Scott and Sergio March Prieto (married in Vermont in 2010).
Plaintiffs have pointed to the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Windsor, which held that the federal definition of marriage between heterosexual couples is unconstitutional. Attorneys for the state argue that the Windsor decision leaves those definitions to the rights of the state. Meanwhile, during today's hearing, a federal judge struck down the same-sex marriage ban in Indiana, and an appeals court upheld a lower-court ruling that had struck down a ban in Utah.
Griggs said she hopes today's decisions "have an impact" on Feldman's ruling.