CircuitMapAccording to the National Conference of State Legislatures, by the end of the year 2000, 40 states had state laws and/or constitutional provisions that said marriage was between one man and one woman only. By 2014, federal judges struck down at least 22 of the states’ laws.

(from CBS News) AP, CINCINNATI – A federal appeals court last Thursday upheld [traditional] marriage laws in four states, breaking ranks with other courts that have considered the issue and setting up the prospect of Supreme Court review.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel that heard arguments on gay marriage bans or restrictions in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee on Aug. 6 split 2-1, with Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton writing the majority opinion. The ruling creates a divide among federal appeals courts, increasing the likelihood the Supreme Court will now take up the issue.

The 64-page ruling cites the need to allow “change through the customary political processes,” rather than through court cases.

The ruling concluded that states have the right to set rules for marriage.

It followed more than 20 court victories for supporters of same-sex marriage since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year. A federal judge in Louisiana recently upheld that state’s ban, but four U.S. appeals courts ruled against state bans.

The issue appears likely to return to the Supreme Court so the nation’s highest court can settle whether states can ban gay marriage or that gay and lesbian couples have a fundamental right to marry under the U.S. Constitution. Thirty-two states recently asked the Supreme Court to settle the issue once and for all.

The high court on Oct. 6 unexpectedly turned away appeals from five states seeking to uphold their traditional marriage laws. The court’s order effectively made gay marriage legal in 30 states. The San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals the next day overturned same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada, the fourth federal appeals court to rule against state bans. …

Before the 9th’s Oct. 7 ruling, three other appellate courts, the 10th Circuit in Denver, the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, and the 7th Circuit in Chicago, overturned statewide gay marriage bans in Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia over the summer, ruling that they were unconstitutional.

During the arguments at the 6th Circuit…Judge Sutton vigorously questioned each side’s attorneys, though he repeatedly expressed deep skepticism that the courts were the best place to legalize gay marriage, saying that the way to win Americans’ hearts and minds is to wait until they’re ready to vote for it.

“I would have thought the best way to get respect and dignity is through the democratic process,” Sutton, a George W. Bush nominee, said at the time. “Nothing happens as quickly as we’d like it.”

Michigan’s and Kentucky’s cases stem from rulings striking down each state’s gay marriage bans. Ohio’s two cases deal only with the state’s recognition of out-of-state gay marriages, while Tennessee’s is narrowly focused on the rights of three same-sex couples. …

From the Associated Press.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from CBSNews. Visit the website at cbsnews .com.


NOTE: In 22 states where voters passed laws and/or amendments to their state constitutions that stated marriage was only legal between one man and one woman, federal judges struck down the legislation and/or amendments, saying they were unconstitutional under the 14th amendment.  An additional 8 states, also passed laws banning same-sex marriage.  (For a list of the marriage amendments by state go to: or

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports 40 states had laws/amendments banning same-sex marriage
( [see end of 2nd para. below “History” under the map]

1. There are 12 U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. List the states covered by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

2. For what reason did the 6th circuit rule to uphold traditional marriage laws in these states?

3. How many of the 12 U.S. Appeals Courts have overturned states’ traditional marriage laws? List the courts.

4. a) At least 30 states had marriage laws and/or state amendments stating that marriage was between one man and one woman only. Why are these laws, passed by a large majority of voters, no longer in effect?
b) On what grounds did the courts overturn laws passed by voters?

5. Read an analysis of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decision by Albert Mohler under “Background” below.
a) What does Mr. Mohler point out was the key legal question (the central constitutional question) before Judge Sutton’s court?
b) How did the 6th circuit answer that question?

6. In his opinion, Judge Sutton wrote:
“A dose of humility makes us hesitant to condemn as unconstitutionally irrational a view of marriage shared not long ago by every society in the world, shared by most, if not all, of our ancestors, and shared still today by a significant number of the states.”
What do you think of Judge Sutton’s statement? Explain your answer.

7. Read the 14th Amendment to the Constitution ( Ask a parent: do you think the 14th amendment makes a ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional? Explain your answer.


Read an excerpt from an analysis of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision by Albert Mohler:

In his opinion, Judge Sutton wrote:

“Of all the ways to resolve this question, one option is not available: a poll of the three judges on this panel, or for that matter all federal judges, about whether gay marriage is a good idea…Our judicial commissions did not come with such a sweeping grant of authority, one that would allow just three of us—just two of us in truth—to make such a vital policy call for the thirty-two million citizens within the four States of the Sixth Circuit: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.”

He went on to say,

“What we have authority to decide instead is a legal question: Does the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibit a State from defining marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman?”

By the time you read very far into the opinion it is clear that this panel has decided that the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution does indeed not prohibit a state from defining marriage as the relationship, as exclusively the relationship, between a man and a woman.

In his very careful argument Judge Sutton goes back to the year 1972 when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take a same-sex marriage case. In that particular case in 1972 the Supreme Court of the United States was asked to take a case in which the Supreme Court of the state of Minnesota had ruled that there was no fundamental, there was no constitutional right, for a same-sex couple to be married. When the court decided not to take that case back in 1972, it did what it does not always do – it explained why it was not taking the case; that was back in 1972.

Back in that statement the court said that the claim that was made by the same-sex couple did not raise “a substantial federal question.” In other words, back in 1972 the Supreme Court of the United States, faced with the very same kind of case that the Six Circuit was just now considering, said that the issues involved in that case did not raise “a substantial federal question” –in other words it was not the business of the federal courts.

But some will say the times have changed and Judge Sutton addresses that issue squarely. He writes:

“But that was then; this is now. And now, claimants insist, must account for United States v. Windsor.” (That was the 2013 case we note in which the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.) Judge Sutton says, “Yet Windsor does not answer today’s question. The decision never mentions Baker, much less overrules it. And the outcomes of the cases do not clash.”

Judge Sutton also took seriously the claim that was made by the plaintiffs in this case that there were so-called “doctrinal developments in the law” that would suggest that the six circuit would have to come to a similar conclusion as the Supreme Court did in the Windsor case. Judge Sutton said there were no such doctrinal developments that would necessitate such a pattern.

As Judge Sutton said in the beginning of his opinion, the key legal question, the central constitutional question before his court, was whether or not the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution would render restrictions on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional and thus unlawful. An answer to that, he points out, that the key issue here is how did the framers of that language in the Constitution actually mean for it to be interpreted. As he said, any faithful kind of interpreter of the document has to ask that question. And if you do asked the question, that is what did the framers of this language mean, as he writes:

“Nobody in this case, however, argues that the people who adopted the 14th Amendment understood it to require the states to change the definition of marriage.”

Furthermore, he points out that the Supreme Court of United States has been employing this very form of logic. He points to the decision handed down last term in the case town of Greece v. Galloway in which the Supreme Court majority ruled that the state of Greece, New York had the right to begin its town Council meetings with prayer because it is not constitutionally or logically sane to suggest that the framers of the U.S. Constitution – in this case its First Amendment – had in mind eliminating that very practice when they followed it themselves; that’s the kind of reasonable common sense that you’d expect not only a lawyer, not only a judge, but any intelligent person to follow.

And speaking of judicial humility, here’s one of the most important statements written by a federal judge I have seen in many, many years. Judge Sutton writes and I quote,

“A dose of humility makes us hesitant to condemn as unconstitutionally irrational a view of marriage shared not long ago by every society in the world, shared by most, if not all, of our ancestors, and shared still today by a significant number of the states.”

Mr. Mohler’s full analysis can be found at: .


Listen to the audio of the commentary by Albert Mohler:


Read Judge Sutton’s opinion in full:

Read an editorial on the 6th Court ruling:

THE U.S. COURT SYSTEM:  There are two separate court systems in America. The federal court system deals with issues of law relating to those powers expressly or implicitly granted to it by the U.S. Constitution, while the state court systems deal with issues of law relating to those matters that the U.S. Constitution did not give to the federal government or explicitly deny to the states.  (from


  • Most cases do not start in the Supreme Court. Usually cases are first brought in front of lower (state or federal) courts. Each disputing party is made up of a petitioner and a respondent.
  • Once the lower court makes a decisions, if the losing party does not think that justice was served, s/he may appeal the case, or bring it to a higher court. In the state court system, these higher courts are called appellate courts. In the federal court system, the lower courts are called United States District Courts and the higher courts are called United States Courts of Appeals.
  • If the higher court’s ruling disagrees with the lower court’s ruling, the original decision is overturned. If the higher court’s ruling agrees with the lower court’s decision, then the losing party may ask that the case be taken to the Supreme Court. But … only cases involving federal or Constitutional law are brought to the highest court in the land [the Supreme Court].


The Supreme Court
Created in Article III of the Constitution, the Chief Justice and eight associate justices of the Supreme Court hear and decide cases involving important questions about the interpretation and fair application of the Constitution and federal law. Cases typically come to the Supreme Court as appeals to decisions of lower federal and state courts.

The Courts of Appeals
Each of the 12 regional circuits has one U.S. court of Appeals that hears appeals to decisions of the district courts located within its circuit and appeals to decisions of federal regulatory agencies. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction and hears specialized cases like patent and international trade cases.
For a Circuit Court of Appeals map, go to

The District Courts
Considered the trial courts of the federal judicial system, the 94 district courts, located within the 12 regional circuits, hear practically all cases involving federal civil and criminal laws. Decisions of the district courts are typically appealed to the district’s court of appeals.

The Bankruptcy Courts – The federal courts have jurisdiction over all bankruptcy cases. …

Special Courts – Two special courts have nationwide jurisdiction over special types of cases: U.S. Court of International Trade… and U.S. Court of Federal Claims….
Other special courts include:  Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces

United States Courts of Appeals:
(from wikipedia)

  • The United States Courts of Appeals are considered among the most powerful and influential courts in the United States.
  • Because of their ability to set legal precedent in regions that cover millions of Americans, the United States Courts of Appeals have strong policy influence on U.S. law.
  • Moreover, because the U.S. Supreme Court chooses to review less than 1% of the more than 10,000 cases filed with it annually, the United States Courts of Appeals serve as the final arbiter on most federal cases.
  • Courts of appeals decisions, unlike those of the lower federal courts, establish binding precedents.
  • Other federal courts in that circuit must, from that point forward, follow the appeals court’s guidance in similar cases, regardless of whether the trial judge thinks that the case should be decided differently. (from wikipedia)
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