U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans ruled that Louisiana's ban on same-sex marriage can stand. The ruling is the first time a ban in a state on same-sex marriages has been upheld by a federal judge since the Supreme Court struck down key elements of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.
"The Court finds that Louisiana's definition of marriage as between one man and one woman and the limitation on recognition of same-sex marriages permitted by law in other states found in Article XII, Section 15 of the Louisiana Constitution and article 3520(B) of the Louisiana Civil Code do not infringe the guarantees of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the United States Constitution," Feldman wrote in his summary judgment.
"The record reveals no material dispute: the defendants have shown that Louisiana's decision to neither permit nor recognize same-sex marriage, formed in the arena of the democratic process, is supported by a rational basis," Feldman wrote. "The Court further finds that plaintiffs have failed to establish a genuine dispute regarding a First Amendment violation on this record."
In June, Shreveport attorney Mike Johnson and his legal team presented oral arguments in the federal court on behalf of the state explaining why Louisiana's Defense of Marriage Amendment should be upheld.
Johnson, a member of First Baptist Church in Bossier City, La., who operates a legal ministry called Freedom Guard, successfully defended the amendment a decade ago against its original challenge at the state Supreme Court.
The day after Feldman's ruling, traditional marriage faced two more losses when the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago overturned same-sex marriage bans in Indiana and Wisconsin. Courts have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage more than three dozen times in the last 14 months. At the state level, the reasoning used by a circuit judge in Tennessee was hailed by traditional marriage proponents in an Aug. 5 ruling for the state's marriage statute.
In a 2004 Louisiana ballot, 78 percent of voters approved Louisiana's Defense of Marriage Constitutional Amendment. Louisiana is one of 31 states that has chosen not to recognize same-sex marriage.
"The decision today is precisely correct," Johnson said after Fedlman's ruling. "The court has merely affirmed that it is the people of each state who have the authority to define and regulate marriage within their borders, rather than a handful of unelected federal judges.
"We believe the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately uphold this important principle," Johnson said.
Steve Horn, president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in Lafayette, voiced gratitude for the ruling "but we need to be careful as to how we celebrate. We still have a lot of ground to recover regarding the sanctity of all marriages.
"Regarding same sex-marriage, this is really not a very difficult question once we decide that we are going to be people who believe and follow the Bible," Horn said.
"However, as believers in Christ and in God's Word, we must admit that we have an unbiblical view of marriage on many other fronts," Horn noted. "Adulterous relationships and cohabitation before marriage are also violations of keeping marriage pure and holy. Whereas these issues will not receive the same attention in the political and legal arenas of our culture, they must receive equal attention from our pulpits."
Despite the ruling in favor of traditional marriage, the victory could be short-lived if the decision is reversed in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which already has an appeal before it by the state of Texas, stemming from a federal judge's ruling in February against Texas' ban on gay marriage
However, Johnson is confident the decision will stand.
"We are very confident that the federal 5th Circuit will uphold the district court's well-reasoned opinion," he said. "This is ultimately a states' rights issue, and Judge Feldman got it precisely right."
Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum that champions causes of faith, freedom and traditional families, said Feldman's ruling confirms that "the people of Louisiana -- not the federal courts -- have the constitutional right to decide how marriage is defined in this state."
Brian Blackwell is a writer for the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
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