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December 12 , 2014

Marriage comes to more of the heartland… and Finland

Little Rock, Ark.--Federal judges in Arkansas and Mississippi overturned those states’ decade-old bans on same-sex marriage.

Both judges stayed their rulings pending appeals. Arkansas falls under the aegis of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, while Mississippi is in the Fifth Circuit. The Fifth Circuit also includes Louisiana and Texas, and will hear oral arguments in appeals of same-sex marriage cases from all three states on January 9.

The Mississippi case was in the court of U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, who opined that allowing marriage causes no harm and provides support and stability.

“The court has considered the parties’ briefs and asked questions of their attorneys at a hearing held November 12, 2014,” Reeves wrote. “There are no disputed facts. The only evidence consists of uncontested affidavits from the plaintiffs. The principal questions are matters of law. That law is relatively straightforward.”

“The case is one of many in which gay and lesbian couples ask the judiciary to finally resolve whether same-sex marriage bans violate the United States Constitution,” he continued. “In the wake of United States v. Windsor, nearly every court presented with the issue has found such bans unconstitutional.”

“It has become clear to the court that people marry for a number of reasons: marriage is a profound source of emotional support; marriage is a private and public expression of commitment; some marry in exercise of their religious beliefs; there are those who marry to present a certain status or image; and others do it for the noble purpose of legitimizing their children,” Reeves posited. “In reviewing the arguments of the parties and conducting its own research, the court determined that an objective person must answer affirmatively to the following questions: Can gay and lesbian citizens love? Can gay and lesbians citizens have long-lasting and committed relationships? Can gay and lesbian citizens love and care for children? Can gay and lesbian citizens provide what is best for their children? Can gay and lesbian citizens help make their children good and productive citizens? Without the right to marry, are gay and lesbian citizens subjected to humiliation and indignity? Without the right to marry, are gay and lesbian citizens subjected to state-sanctioned prejudice?”

Reeves responded to his own questions. “Answering ‘Yes’ to each of these questions leads the court to the inescapable conclusion that same-sex couples should be allowed to share in the benefits, and burdens, for better or for worse, of marriage. The court concludes that Mississippi’s same-sex marriage ban deprives same-sex couples and their children of equal dignity under the law. Gay and lesbian citizens cannot be subjected to such second-class citizenship. Mississippi’s same-sex marriage ban violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

In Arkansas, Judge Kristine Baker wrote, “This Court does not take lightly a request to declare that a state law is unconstitutional. Statutes are passed by the duly elected representatives of the people. It is not on a whim that the Court supplants the will of the voters or the decisions of the legislature.”

“Even so, these interests do not address any specific reasons for the marriage laws at issue; instead, they represent the type of generalized, post hoc, and litigation-reactive justifications that strict scrutiny disallows,” she noted. “The Court reminds Separate Defendants that the Constitution is also an expression of the people’s will, and these rationales contradict the very fabric and structure of the Constitution’s protections of individual rights against majoritarian and governmental overreach.”

While marriage in both states will hinge on the appeals to their respective circuits, Finland’s parliament voted 105-92 against keeping an opposite-sex only definition of marriage. Parliamentary committees will now introduce legislation to officially legalize same-sex marriage in the country, the last Nordic nation to do so. Public opinion in Finland is solidly behind same-sex marriage, so full marriage passage is likely.








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