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6th Circuit Upholds Same-Sex Marriage Bans

(CN) - Only days after the 6th Circuit reversed lower court rulings that struck down same-sex marriage bans in four states, at least one Supreme Court belies the high court will have "plenty of opportunities" to weigh in on the issue.

Justice Stephen Breyer offered that assessment during a panel discussion on Sunday during the Jewish Federations of North American's General Assembly at the National Harbor hotel and convention center in Maryland.

Responding to a suggestion from NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg, who moderated the panel, Justice Breyer acknowledged that the Supreme Court's decision not to take up appeals of same-sex marriage rulings earlier this session far from precluded the court from weighing in later.

Justice Elena Kagan, who was also on the panel, declined to offer any opinion on when the Supreme Court will tackle the issue, Politico reported.

The high court's position became all the more relevant Friday, after a divided three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit reversed District Court rulings in Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee that struck down same-sex marriage bans.

The ruling created a split among the nation's circuit courts that virtually guarantees Supreme Court review.

Writing for the majority, U.S. Circuit Judge Jeffery Sutton said as far as he was concerned, the issue was all but settled 42 years ago when the Supreme Court issued a one-sentence ruling that "upheld the right of the people of a state to define marriage as they see it."

"When the courts do not let the people resolve new social issues like this one, they perpetuate the idea that the heroes in these change events are judges and lawyers," Sutton write. "Better in this instance, we think, to allow change through the customary political process, in which the people, gay and straight alike, become the heroes of their own stories by meeting each other not as adversaries in the court system but as fellow citizens seeing to resolve a new social issue in a far-minded way."

In her dissent, U.S. Circuit Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey took issue with Sutton's notion that a courtroom was no place to settle the social issue.

"If we in the judiciary do not have the authority, and indeed the responsibility, to right fundamental wrings left excused by a majority of the electorate, our whole intricate constitutional system of checks and balances, as well as the oaths to which we swore, prove to be nothing but shams," Daughtrey wrote.

Last month, the Supreme Court refused to reconsider rulings in cases in six states, in part because there was not conflict among the circuits.

But during a speech in Minneapolis in the wake of that decision, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested the outcome of the 6th Circuits then-pending ruling would create "some urgency" for the high court to take the issue up if, as has now happened, the appellate court allowed same-sex marriage bans to stand.

Each of the cases directly impacted by the 6th Circuit's ruling took on a different aspect of the prohibition of same-sex marriage.

In Michigan, for instance, the court striking down Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage cited the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Windsor, which took issue with a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

While in Kentucky, a federal judge ruled the state's refusal to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states illegally violates the civil rights of married same-sex couples by treating " gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them."

The two cases out of Ohio took on more specific impacts of the state's same-sex marriage ban. In the first a family claimed Ohio's refusal to recognize out-of-state gay marriages unconstitutionally prevented them from using the Healthcare Marketplace to get coverage for themselves and their daughter; the second case ended with a ruling that Ohio must recognize valid out-of-state, same-sex marriages, clearing the way for a man to be buried next to his late husband.

Already, the American Civil Liberties Union has said it will be filing a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court in an effort to overturn the Sixth Circuit ruling.

Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal, which represented clients in the two Ohio cases and also plans to ask the Supreme Court to intervene, said in a statement after the ruling was announced, "These couples, their children, and the whole nation need a final -- and better - resolution to this matter of critical importance to so many American families."

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