Gay marriage focus returns to lower courts

People wait to enter the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, Oct. 6, 2014, as it begins its new term. The justices cleared the way Monday for an immediate expansion of same-sex marriage by unexpectedly and tersely turning away appeals from five states seeking to prohibit gay and lesbian unions. The court's order effectively makes gay marriage legal now in 30 states. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court’s decision to pass on gay marriage appeals effectively makes same-sex marriage legal in 30 states and returns the focus in the other 20 states to the courts — and, more particularly, to four federal appeals courts in the Midwest and South that have a more conservative makeup.

The justices may find it harder to stay out of the gay marriage issue if a federal appeals court upholds same-sex marriage bans and parts company with the other appellate courts that have ruled so far.

Courts based in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Ohio, New Orleans and St. Louis could produce anti-gay marriage rulings. Of those, the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could rule anytime in cases considering anti-gay marriage laws in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

Such a ruling, if it comes quickly, could be appealed to the Supreme Court in time to be argued and decided by late June.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is handling cases from Louisiana, in which a federal judge upheld the state’s ban, and Texas, where the anti-gay marriage law was struck down.

Florida’s appeal of a federal judge’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage will be heard by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

No gay marriage cases have yet been decided by federal courts in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stretching from North Dakota to Arkansas. But a state court judge in Arkansas has struck down the state ban.

In 2006, the 8th Circuit upheld a gay marriage ban in Nebraska.

One other federal appeals court, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, is weighing bans in Idaho and Nevada, and is considered likely to rule for same-sex couples. A pro-gay marriage ruling might well extend to three other states in the 9th Circuit that do not permit same-sex couples to marry: Alaska, Arizona and Montana.

The 9th Circuit could issue a decision soon. If it sides with same-sex couples and applies to the five states, same-sex marriage would be legal in 35 states and the District of Columbia.

Those numbers would be similar to the division among the states when the Supreme Court earlier got rid of legal segregation of public schools, bans on interracial marriage and anti-sodomy laws that targeted gay people.

 

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