Appeals court upholds rulings striking down gay marriage bans in Indiana, Wisconsin

September 4, 2014

FILE – Todd Kinsman, 28, left, and Ravi Manghnani, 37, hug after getting married in Madison, Wis., a day after the ban on same-sex marriage was struck down. The Wisconsin Supreme Court announced Tuesday, July 29, 2014 that it will release a highly anticipated decision Thursday dealing with the state’s domestic partnership registry. (AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, Amber Arnold, File)

A federal appeals court in Chicago on Thursday agreed with two lower court rulings overturning state bans on same-sex marriage in Indiana and Wisconsin.

The unanimous decision issued by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals came just over a week after the court heard oral arguments in the two cases. Writing for the court, Judge Richard Posner said Indiana and Wisconsin “have given us no reason to think they have a ‘reasonable basis’ for forbidding same-sex marriage.”

“The challenged laws discriminate against a minority defined by an immutable characteristic, and the only rationale that the states put forth with any conviction — that same-sex couples and their children don’t need marriage because same-sex couples can’t produce children, intended or unintended — is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously,” Posner wrote.

Posner, a Ronald Reagan appointee, was joined by Judges Ann Claire Williams, appointed by Bill Clinton, and David Hamilton, appointed by President Obama.

The 7th Circuit is the third Court of Appeals to rule against same-sex marriage bans in state constitutions, a year after the Supreme Court overturned key parts of the Defense of Marriage Act. Earlier this year, the 10th Circuit struck down marriage bans in Oklahoma and Utah, and the 4th Circuit struck down bans in Virginia.

Those two decisions have been appealed to the Supreme Court. A spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Justice told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the department would appeal the ruling. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller (R) did not immediately comment on the decision.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati will rule on similar laws in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee after hearing oral arguments in August.

Some Wisconsin counties issued marriage licenses after Circuit Court Judge Barbara Crabb struck down the state’s gay marriage ban in June. Crabb later stayed her own ruling, pending appeal. The Indiana decision was also stayed. Those stays remain in effect, meaning Thursday’s decision will not result in a flood of new marriages.

The decision comes a day after a federal judge in Louisiana ruled that state had the right to ban same-sex unions. Judge Martin Feldman was the first federal district judge to rule in favor of marriage bans after the Supreme Court’s June 2013 decision.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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