A lawyer for a
gay couple suing for the right to wed argued Tuesday
before a federal appeals panel in Pasadena,
Calif., that it is unconstitutional to outlaw
same-sex marriage. One judge on the ninth U.S. circuit
court of appeals panel appeared unmoved, and two others said
the case could die on procedural grounds.
Arthur Smelt and Christopher Hammer, both 46, of
Mission Viejo, sued after being denied a marriage
license in Orange County. They claim that both
California's ban on same-sex marriage and federal laws
against such unions are unconstitutional because
they treat gays and lesbians differently than heterosexuals.
U.S. district judge Gary Taylor last year ruled
against the couple, saying the government's desire to
promote procreation is a valid reason for infringing
on the rights of gays. The couple appealed the ruling.
But Judge Jerome Farris of the appellate court
agreed with Taylor's argument. "I think marriage is a
bundle of sticks, and sticks include procreation," he said.
Richard Gilbert, the couple's attorney, said
procreation is not the important element of marriage,
and Judge Sidney Thomas appeared to agree. "I don't
understand, really, the procreation argument," Thomas said.
The judges did not indicate when they would rule.
The couple's case does not have the support of
heavyweights in the fight for same-sex marriage, which
are instead waging campaigns in state courts in
California, Iowa, Washington, New Jersey, New York, and
elsewhere. They are seeking rulings similar to a 2003
decision that led to marriage equality in Massachusetts.
The strategy of Lambda Legal and the American
Civil Liberties Union is to win in several states
before going to the federal courts and eventually the
Supreme Court. They say there is a strong national consensus
against same-sex marriage and that the Supreme Court
would likely rule against it.
"We are interested in serious, incremental work
in order to succeed," said Jennifer Pizer, a Lambda
attorney who attended the hearing.
In an interview, Gilbert said Lambda and the
ACLU's strategy is failing. Nineteen states have
amended their constitutions to outlaw same-sex
marriage, and voters in at least six other states could be
asked to amend theirs similarly this year.
During the hearing, Justice Department lawyer
Gregory Katsas argued that the traditional definition
of marriage does not violate the Constitution. Thomas
and Judge Ferdinand Fernandez suggested the case may be
premature, saying a state court of appeals in San
Francisco is already weighing a lawsuit brought by
gays and lesbians challenging California's prohibition
on same-sex marriage.
Gilbert, however, said he wanted a definitive
ruling on whether federal laws and the 49 states that
do not permit same-sex marriage are violating the U.S.
Constitution's equal protection guarantee. (AP)