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Bucking Legal Trend, Federal Judge Upholds La.'s Ban On Gay Marriage

Bucking a long judicial trend, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday that Louisiana's ban on gay marriage is constitutional.

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman acknowledged that his ruling "runs counter to all but two other federal decisions," but he goes on to say that other judges went too far in their opinions.

As we've reported, the legal thinking has by and large been that state bans on gay marriage are unconstitutional because they violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Feldman makes two major points: first, that the Supreme Court has never ruled that sexual orientation enjoys federal protected class status, and second, that while the precedent bans states from passing laws that are born out of animosity toward homosexuals, that's not what is going on here.

Louisiana, the judge says, has a legitimate interest in defining marriage to be between a man and a woman. Feldman explains:

"So, is there even any rational basis for Louisiana's resistance to recognize same-sex marriages entered into in other states, or to authorize same-sex marriages in Louisiana? Plaintiffs contend not, and conclude that Louisiana's laws and Constitution can only be supported by a hateful animus.

"Defendants rejoin that the laws serve a central state interest of linking children to an intact family formed by their biological parents. Of even more consequence, in this Court's judgment, defendants assert a legitimate state interest in safeguarding that fundamental social change, in this instance, is better cultivated through democratic consensus. This Court agrees."

"Louisiana's laws and Constitution are directly related to achieving marriage's historically preeminent purpose of linking children to their biological parents. Louisiana's regime pays respect to the democratic process; to vigorous debate. To predictable controversy, of course. The fact that marriage has many differing, even perhaps unproved dimensions, does not render Louisiana's decision irrational. Nor does the opinion of a set ofsocial scientists (ardently disputed by many others, it should benoted) that other associative forms may be equally stable, or the view that such judgments vilify a group (even though one finds them in a majority of the states, but not in all states). Even the fact that the state's precepts work to one group's disadvantage does not mandate that they serve no rational basis. The Court is persuaded that a meaning of what is marriage that has endured in history for thousands of years, and prevails in a majority of states today, is not universally irrational on the constitutional grid."

Of course, all of this ultimately will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to, at some point, pick a case or a group of cases that will settle the issue for the country as a whole.

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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