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Equality for all 

In 2004, Louisiana voters adopted a state constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriages and civil unions — by a margin of 78 percent to 22 percent. Recent polls show that a similar ban likely would pass today, but by a much narrower margin. In just a decade, more than 20 percent of Louisiana citizens have changed their minds on same-sex marriage. Still, that's not enough to join the 19 states (and the District of Columbia) that have legalized same-sex marriage. That's why several same-sex couples filed suit to dilute or overturn Louisiana's ban — and why they and their allies were so disappointed last week when U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman ruled that they did not prove their case.

  Last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Windsor overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and gave same-sex married couples important legal protections. Although Windsor did not specifically overturn state bans on same-sex marriage, it did foster a string of victories in lower courts for advocates of same-sex marriage — until Feldman's ruling last week in the case of Robicheaux v. Caldwell. The plaintiffs in that case vow to appeal, as they should. Robicheaux v. Caldwell actually combined two cases (see "Wedlocked out," p. 7), one of which dealt with same-sex marriages that are recognized by other states but not Louisiana, and one that aimed to overturn Louisiana's constitutional ban entirely. Now the plaintiffs can only hope that the higher courts will overturn Feldman's decision.

  Among younger people, this issue is largely settled. Polls consistently show that a majority of younger Democrats and Republicans either support or have no objection to same-sex marriage. For them, any impediment to the establishment of same-sex marriage seems baffling and frustrating. Many older Americans, however, have firsthand memories of civil rights struggles that remain fresh in their minds. As we consider the struggle that gay and lesbian Americans wage for equality, we are reminded of civil rights icons like the esteemed Dr. Norman Francis, the 46-year president of Xavier University, who last week announced his intention to retire. Francis broke the color barrier at Loyola University in 1952 when he became one of the first two black students to attend Loyola's School of Law. That milestone was neither clean nor complete, because he was not allowed to live in the dorms, which were white-only. The lesson there is that progress often is incremental and sometimes riddled with unfairness.

  It was little more than a generation ago that gays and lesbians in Louisiana could be (and often were) arrested simply for gathering in a public place. Bars were closed down, Mardi Gras balls were raided, and houses of worship were closed to them. To people of a certain age who lived through those times, the idea of legally sanctioned same-sex marriage in Louisiana was as inconceivable then as today's generation finds it inevitable. For some, the fact that this issue is even heard in court represents progress.

  Today, it must be particularly galling for long-term, committed same-sex couples in Louisiana to know that opposite-sex visitors to New Orleans can apply for a marriage license and be married the same day. A waiver of the mandatory 72-hour waiting period is easily obtained by visitors, but same-sex relationships, no matter the duration, can't even be recognized as a civil union, much less a marriage.

  Despite the state's legal objections cited in Robicheaux v. Caldwell, it's in Louisiana's best interest to comport with federal regulations adopted after the dismantling of DOMA. The new rules have put some state laws in a thicket. Right now, for example, same-sex couples in Louisiana can file joint federal income tax returns, but they can't file joint state returns — despite a state law saying that state and federal filings must be congruent for married couples. A legal marriage performed in Iowa or California is recognized in Louisiana — unless the couple is of the same sex.

  Historically, Louisiana has given rise to a number of landmark — and sometimes notorious — civil rights cases, including the shameful "separate but equal" holding in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. It took more than half a century to right the wrongs of Plessy, and America still struggles to create a color-blind society. The issue of same-sex marriage is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, perhaps as early as the court's next term, which begins Oct. 6. When it has the chance, we hope the high court rules in favor of equality for all.

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