Church-state group asks court to strike down gay-marriage bans in three states

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and allies filed legal briefs June 16 asking a federal appeals court to uphold lower court rulings that struck down same-sex marriage bans in Tennessee, Kentucky and Michigan.  

By Bob Allen

A gay Baptist minister suing for the right to wed in Kentucky got support June 17 from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The Washington-based watchdog group filed three separate legal briefs asking the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold lower court rulings that struck down same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II ruled Feb. 12 that Kentucky must respect the marriages of same-sex couples legally performed in other states. Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard, an ordained Baptist minister and volunteer worker at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville who was denied a license to marry his partner last year in Kentucky, joined the litigation Feb. 14. Oral arguments are scheduled Aug. 6.

Americans United and the Anti-Defamation League joined more than 20 other religious and public policy groups arguing that Kentucky’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. The brief says the ban “was enacted with the purpose of imposing a particular religious understanding of marriage” and that “moral disapproval” by a majority of citizens is not a “legitimate state interest” for denying same-sex couples equal rights.

barry lynn“Religious liberty does not give anyone the right to use the law to discriminate,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Yet, a handful of religious organizations are claiming that religious freedom allows them to define marriage for everyone in some states.”

The other two briefs raise similar objections in cases in Tennessee, where three same-sex couples seek legal recognition of marriages performed in other states, and Michigan, where a lesbian couple is suing over a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2004 banning same-sex marriage.

“Laws based on theological doctrine are unconstitutional,” said Alex Luchenitser, Americans United associate legal director. “These three marriage bans undoubtedly resulted from religion-based bias against gay and lesbian people, and they are discriminatory.”

The appellate court based in Cincinnati decided to hear oral arguments in all three cases in a single day.

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