The federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati will hear oral arguments Wednesday in same-sex marriage cases from four states, including Kentucky.
The lawsuits each challenge aspects of laws banning same-sex marriage in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky. Kentucky’s case challenges the state’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
“What’s at stake here are marriage equality rights,” said Laura Landenwich, an attorney for plaintiffs.
“We will be hearing several hours of oral arguments … on whether or not these marriage bans either deprive same-sex couples of the fundamental right to marry which is protected by the constitution, or whether there is an equal protection violation because the law is targeting a class of people for unfair treatment under the law.”
In February, U.S. District Judge John Heyburn ordered the state to recognize those marriages, but he later issued a stay pending appeal. Attorney General Jack Conway declined to appeal the order, but Gov. Steve Beshear hired outside counsel to take the case to the appeals court. Since Heyburn’s initial order, same-sex couples seeking to get married in Kentucky asked to join the suit. Last month, Heyburn issued a seperate order for Kentucky to allow those couples to be married in the state, but immediately issued a stay.
The two cases have been consolidated and will be argued Wednesday in Cincinnati.
In a released statement, Gov. Steve Beshear office said it supported consolidating the cases so both could be argued Wednesday before the appeals court.
“This is part of the governor’s ongoing effort to bring finality and certainty to this matter for the people of Kentucky in the quickest possible manner,” the statement said.
The appeals court could decide the cases in the weeks or months following Wednesday’s oral arguments. That will likely lead to al appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Several other states have legal challenges to laws banning same-sex marriage.
Landenwich said the outcome of Wednesday’s hearing will determine the perimeters of an anticipated future argument between plaintiffs and states before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I think the weight of the law is on our side, the weight of justice is on our side,” Landenwich said. “And there’s no reason to think that these judges aren’t going to fairly apply the law, and if they do, the result is inevitable.”
WFPL’s Joseph Lord contributed to this story.