One side was euphoric, the other dismayed, but both foes and supporters of same-sex marriage swiftly turned their attention to the U.S. Supreme Court after an against-the-grain appeals court ruling upheld bans or restrictions on gay marriage in four states.
The 2-1 ruling Thursday by the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — affecting laws in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee — ran counter to a wave of recent federal court rulings striking down state bans on same-sex marriage and boosting the number of states that allow it to 32.
"We are ecstatic," said National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown, an outspoken foe of same-sex unions. "The other side was counting their chickens before they're hatched."
Brown welcomed the new possibility that a split in appeals court rulings would oblige the Supreme Court to take up the issue, which it sidestepped last month.
Chase Strangio, an attorney in the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project, described the 6th Circuit ruling as "an outlier that's incompatible with the 50 other rulings that uphold fairness for all families."
"We will be filing for Supreme Court review right away and hope that through this deeply disappointing ruling we will be able to bring a uniform rule of equality to the entire country," he said.
In Michigan, key figures on both sides of the issue welcomed the prospect of Supreme Court engagement.
"Onward and upward. We're ready to go," said Carole Stanyar, a lawyer for two Detroit-area nurses who challenged Michigan's ban on gay marriage.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who defended the ban in court, said of the Supreme Court, "The sooner they rule, the better, for Michigan and the country."
U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., who has criticized Schuette and GOP Gov. Rick Snyder for defending the ban, expressed disappointment at the 6th Circuit ruling, but added, "I know in the long view of history it will only be a small setback in the ultimate pursuit of equality."
In Kentucky, Greg Bourke, one of the plaintiffs who challenged his state's ban, described the ruling as the "ultimate disappointment."
"We're definitely going to fight this, one way or the other. And maybe in more than one way," said Bourke, who married his partner, Michael DeLeon, in Canada.
Two of the groups that had supported Bourke's challenge — the Fairness Campaign and the ACLU of Kentucky — announced plans for a rally in Louisville on Friday to protest the 6th Circuit ruling.
In October, to widespread surprise, the Supreme Court turned away appeals from five states seeking to uphold their marriage bans, even though gay couples who had won in the lower courts joined in asking for high court review.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had explained in a September speech that the lack of a split in the appeals courts made Supreme Court review of the issue unnecessary, but now such a split exists.
"The justices of the Supreme Court were derelict in their duty when they refused to review the marriage cases previously before them," said Brown of the National Organization for Marriage. "They now have no excuse."
Though major nationwide polls show that a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage, Brown and allies insist that its spread to all 50 states is not inevitable.
"In the vast majority of states that now have redefined marriage, it's been judges and not voters who have done this," said Brown. "The movement to redefine marriage does not benefit from having momentum — it benefits from the exercise of raw political power by federal and state judges and politicians."
Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said the success of conservative candidates in this week's election suggests that support for same-sex marriage is stalling "as Americans begin to experience and consider the consequences for religious freedom, free speech, and parental rights."
From the other side, both the election results and the 6th Circuit marriage ruling were cited by the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group, in an urgent fundraising appeal Thursday night.
"In the wake of this devastating decision and the losses equality faced in this week's election, we have a lot of work ahead of us," wrote the group's president, Chad Griffin. "The time has come for full marriage equality, everywhere, for everyone."
Associated Press writers Brett Barrouquere in Louisville, Kentucky, and Ed White and Jeff Karoub in Detroit contributed to this report.
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