11th Circuit court puts Florida appeals on hold

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals today put appeals of two Florida marriage equality rulings on hold pending the outcome of upcoming hearings gavelbefore the U.S. Supreme Court on similar marriage equality cases appealed from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals:

“Pursuant to the court’s direction, the appeals …  are held in abeyance pending the United States Supreme Court’s issuance of an opinion in DeBoer v. Snyder … . Any other current or future appeals that are filed in this court raising the same or similar issues as the appeals listed above will also be held in abeyance pending the Supreme Court’s issuance of an opinion in DeBoer v. Snyder. Within twenty-one (21) days of the date the Supreme Court issues its opinion in DeBoer v. Snyder, the parties are directed to notify this court in writing what issues, if any, remain pending in these appeals.”

Same-sex marriages began in Florida on Jan. 5 when Miami Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel lifted the stay she had imposed on her earlier ruling in state court striking down Florida’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Zabel lifted the stay on her ruling the day before the stay on a federal district court case ruling that also declared the ban unconstitutional was to have expired. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi had asked  U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to extend the stay on U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle’s ruling, but Thomas refused.

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals on marriage cases from other federal circuit courts, all of whom had ruled in favor of marriage equality. In January, the Supreme Court agreed to hear appeals on four marriage equality cases out of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, the only federal appellate court to rule against marriage equality since the Supreme Court’s June 2013 decision in U.S. v Windsor striking down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hold hearings on the 6th Circuit causes in April and to deliver a decision in June.

—  Tammye Nash

BREAKING: SCOTUS to rule on marriage equality

Texas plaintifss

Plaintiffs in the Texas marriage equality case listen as their attorney, Neel Lane, center, speaks at a press conference outside the courthouse in New Orleans after the 5th Circuit court hearing on Jan. 9. Plaintiffs are Nicole Dimetman and Cleo DeLeon of Austin and Victor Holmes and Mark Phariss of Plano. (Photo by Erin Moore)

The U.S. Supreme Court decided today (Friday, Jan. 16) to hear arguments in four cases challenging marriage equality. The justices are expected to hear arguments in the cases in April and issue a ruling by June, according to reports by CNN and others.

The court will hear appeals from Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky and Michigan — all four of which are in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, the only federal appellate court to have ruled against marriage equality since SCOTUS’ landmark U.S. v Windsor decision in June 2013.

In the first week of 2015, Florida became the 36th marriage equality state. The District of Columbia also recognizes same-sex marriages

The Supreme Court last October declined to hear appeals in several cases challenging same-sex marriage bans, all of which had been decided by federal appellate courts in favor of equality.The decision by the court launched a wave of new marriage equality states and appeared to indicate that the court stands in favor of marriage equality.

The court also declined in December to extend a stay on the federal trial court ruling striking down the same-sex marriage ban in Florida.

A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments last Friday, Jan. 9, in marriage equality cases from Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Although there is no word yet when the 5th Circuit court might issue a decision in those cases, marriage equality supporters feel the decision will come down in their favor.

—  Tammye Nash

BREAKING: No word from SCOTUS on cases appealed from 6th Circuit

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 7.49.06 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court today (Friday, Jan. 9) took no action on appeals of five marriage equality cases from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 6th Circuit court is the only federal appellate court since the Supreme Court’s June 2013 ruling declaring parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional to rule against marriage equality and in favor of state bans on same-sex marriage.

The Supreme Court last fall chose not to hear appeals in cases from other circuits, all of which had ruled in favor of equality. The court also chose not to extend the stay on a Florida judge’s ruling overturning the ban there, leading to the start of same-sex marriages there on Monday (Jan. 5).

Although today was the first day the court might have announced some action on the five 6th Circuit cases, it wasn’t the last. According to a report by Reuters, the justices often delay acting on cases the first time they are discussed in their private sessions. An announcement on whether the court will hear the cases could come as soon as next week.

—  Tammye Nash

6th Circuit upholds marriage discrimination

Ruling is first at appellate level to go against equality, establishes need for SCOTUS to rule

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service


In a decision that will compel the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of marriage equality bans, a panel of the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Thursday, Nov. 6, that it is not unconstitutional for a state to ban marriage licenses for same-sex couples or refuse to recognize marriage licenses such couples obtain from other states.

It is the first federal appeals court to make such a ruling, and this one reversed six lower court rulings in four states, setting it on a direct path to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Many court observers believe they know how the Supreme Court will rule: that such bans are unconstitutional. That’s because on Oct. 6, there were not even four justices willing to hear appeals in defense of such bans. And the 40-page Sixth Circuit panel decision now creates a conflict among the circuits, essentially compelling the Supreme Court to make a definitive ruling on the issue.

The 2-to-1 decision from the Sixth Circuit was what many had also predicted. The two Republican appointees — both appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush — upheld the state bans. The one Democratic appointee — a Clinton choice — voted in dissent.

Writing for the majority, Judge Jeffrey Sutton acknowledged the futility of his ruling in its second sentence: “From the vantage point of 2014, it would now seem, the question is not whether American law will allow gay couples to marry; it is when and how that will happen.”

But, echoing statements he made during oral argument in August, Sutton said the approval of same-sex marriage should be “in the hands of state voters” and that the Supreme Court’s 1972 summary dismissal of Minnesota gay couple’s appeal (in Baker v. Nelson) still binds lower courts to uphold the bans by other states.

“Respect for democratic control over this traditional area of state expertise ensures that ‘a statewide deliberative process that enable[s] its citizens to discuss and weigh arguments for and against same-sex marriage’ can have free and reasonable rein.”

As for licenses granted by other states, Sutton said, “States have always decided for themselves when to yield to laws of other states.”

Susan Sommer, Lambda Legal’s director of constitutional litigation, said her group is “extremely disappointed” and that the decision “highlights the need for the U. S. Supreme Court to right this injustice.”

Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson said the decision was “compeletly out of step with the Supreme Court’s clear signal last month” and “out of step with the majority of the American people.”

He also said there are at least two rational reasons for limiting marriage to heterosexual couples: One is that government “got into the business of defining marriage … to regulate sex, most especially the intended and unintended effects of male-female intercourse.”

“It is not society’s laws or for that matter any one religion’s laws, but nature’s laws [that men and women complement each other biologically], that created the policy imperative,” wrote Sutton.

“If it is constitutionally irrational to stand by the man-woman definition of marriage, it must be constitutionally irrational to stand by the monogamous definition of marriage,” Sutton wrote later in the decision.

The other reason, Sutton said, is “a state might wish to wait and see before changing a norm that our society [like all others] has accepted for centuries.” Noting that Michigan voters approved its ban just one year after same-sex marriage became possible in Massachusetts, Sutton said, “A state still assessing how this has worked, whether in 2004 or 2014, is not showing irrationality, just a sense of stability and an interest in seeing how the new definition has worked elsewhere.”

While Sutton acknowledged that there are costs to same-sex couples of denying them the right to vote, that harm “demands an answer — but from elected legislators, not life-tenured judges.”

He saw no evidence that the bans were born of animus but, rather, were motivated by “fear that the courts would seize control over an issue that people of good faith care deeply about.”

“[T]he institution of marriage arose independently of [the] record of discrimination” against gays, wrote Sutton.

Oddly, Sutton’s ruling acknowledged only 19 states and the District of Columbia as having allowed same-sex couples to marry. He did not mention that another nine states began issuing licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear appeals from the Fourth, Seventh, Ninth and Tenth Circuits.

Sutton said the Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor, striking down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, had no impact on the panel majority’s ruling in the Sixth Circuit cases. He said Windsor hinged on DOMA’s “unprecedented intrusion into the states’ authority over domestic relations.”

Sutton said the Supreme Court’s action in denying review of the seven appeals it refused in October expressed no opinion on the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage.

“A decision not to decide is a decision not to decide,” wrote Sutton.

In dissent, Judge Martha Daughtery derided the majority opinion, saying it “wholly fails to grapple with the relevant constitutional questions” and instead occupies itself with the question of “who should decide” and exhibiting a “reverence for ‘proceeding with caution’.”

“If we in the judiciary do not have the authority, and indeed the responsibility, to right fundamental wrongs left excused by a majority of the electorate,” wrote Daughtery, “our whole intricate, constitutional system of checks and balances, as well as the oaths to which we swore, prove to be nothing but shams.”

The Sixth Circuit decision and dissent was addressed in federal district court rulings in six cases involving state bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee: DeBoer v. Snyder (Michigan), Obergefell v. Hodges and Henry v. Hodges (Ohio), Bourke v. Beshear and Love v. Beshear (Kentucky), and Tanco v. Haslam (Tennessee).

The ruling represents the marriage equality movement’s second court loss since 2012 when a federal judge in Nevada ruled against same-sex couples in Sevcik v. Sandoval. The first loss was from a federal district court judge in Louisiana in Robicheaux v. Caldwell on Sept. 3.

The Fifth Circuit announced on Oct. 28 that it would hear oral arguments in the Louisiana case and one from Texas on Jan. 5.

© 2014 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  Tammye Nash

Appeals court rejects ‘homophobic panic’ claim

Lawyers for Robert Van Hook, convicted of murdering gay man in 1985, told court psychological reports could have supported his claims of mental disease


Robert Van-Hook

LISA CORNWELL  |  Associated Press

CINCINNATI — A federal appeals court on Tuesday, Oct. 4 upheld an Ohio man’s death penalty for killing a man he met in a gay bar in 1985, rejecting claims that prosecutors violated his rights by not providing psychological reports showing he may have been motivated by “homophobic panic.”

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a lower court’s ruling upholding the death penalty for Robert Van Hook, 51. The panel also rejected claims of ineffective counsel.

Van Hook’s attorney, Keith Yeazel, said Tuesday that he will either appeal to the full 6th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court after he has a chance to review the ruling.

The Supreme Court in November 2009 reversed an earlier decision by the 6th Circuit panel that had found ineffective trial counsel, and the panel said Tuesday that it was bound by the high court’s decision.

Van Hook’s latest appeal argued that the psychological reports showing he may have been motivated by “homophobic panic,” or rejection of his homosexual urges, rather than robbery, could have been used to support his claim of mental disease. The reports also would have been used to counter the murder element of “specific intent to cause the death of another person” and the aggravated robbery factor contributing to the death penalty, the appeal stated.

Van Hook claimed temporary insanity, but never denied strangling and then stabbing David Self to death at his Cincinnati apartment.

Prosecutors said he lured Self to the apartment with the intention of robbing him. He then mutilated Self’s body with a kitchen knife, hiding the murder weapon in the corpse before fleeing to Florida, where he was arrested and confessed.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas