Jackie and Lauren Brettner, photographed at their New Orleans home with their 16-month old daughter Sophie, Wednesday, August 20, 2014, are plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to strike down Louisiana's amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Ted Jackson/The Times-Picayune/Landov

Gay marriage suffers first federal defeat since DOMA


The winning streak is over.

For the first time since last year’s historic DOMA ruling, a federal judge has ruled against marriage equality.

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, a President Reagan appointee, upheld Louisiana’s same-sex marriage ban on Wednesday, finding that the plaintiffs failed to prove either an equal protection violation, or a First Amendment violation (in that married same-sex couples have to write “single” on their tax returns). The decision breaks a 20-plus string of federal courtroom victories for same-sex couples hoping to either marry, or have their out-of-state marriages recognized at home.

“[It] is not for this Court to resolve the wisdom of same-sex marriage,” said Feldman in his 32-page opinion. “Federalism is not extinct. Federalism remains a vibrant and essential component of our nation’s constitutional structure.”

Prior to Wednesday’s decision, no ban on same-sex nuptials had survived a federal challenge since last year’s landmark ruling that invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law which prevented the U.S. government from recognizing legal marriages between gay and lesbian couples. That decision opened the floodgates for dozens of marriage equality cases across the country and a near two-fold increase in the number of states where gay and lesbian couples can legally wed. Two federal appeals courts have also sided with same-sex couples in three separate cases, pushing the issue closer to being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Louisiana plaintiffs are planning to appeal their decision, the Associated Press reported. Once filed, the appeal will be heard by the 5th Circuit court, once of the most conservative appeals courts in the nation.

Louisiana voters approved the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex nuptials and civil unions in 2004. The consolidated cases were filed on behalf of six same-sex couples who wish to have their out-of-state marriages recognized by Louisiana officials, and one same-sex couple looking to marry in the Bayou State.

Bucking the opinions of a wide, bipartisan array of federal judges who have ruled on the matter, Feldman wrote that the right of same-sex couples to marry is not yet fundamental. He also found the ban served a “legitimate interest” in “linking children to an intact family formed by their two biological parents,” and referred to same-sex unions as “lifestyle choices.”

“When a judge begins by talking about ‘lifestyle choices,’ it’s pretty clear he’s not going to do right by gay people under the Constitution,” said Freedom to Marry founder Evan Wolfson in a Tweet. His organization, along with several other marriage equality groups, insist Wednesday’s ruling won’t detract from the movement’s momentum.

“Ultimately the nine justices of the Supreme Court of the United States will be asked to decide whether committed and loving gay and lesbian couples should be denied an institution that they, themselves, have deemed a constitutional right more than a dozen times,” said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Legal Director Sarah Warbelow in a statement. “We firmly believe that justice will ultimately be done.”