JACKSON, Miss. — A federal appeals court Wednesday instructed judges in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to wrap up gay marriage cases in their states in line with last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
The order Wednesday from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals clears one of the final procedural roadblocks in the three cases, which had been pending before the New Orleans-based court. The 5th Circuit had heard arguments in the appeals but hadn’t ruled.
Circuit Judge Jerry Smith, writing for the three-judge panel that had heard arguments in the case, told federal district judges to issue final rulings by July 17 at the latest. The appeals court told U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans that he, in particular, needed to hurry because of the declining health of one of the Louisiana plaintiffs, Robert Welles. Feldman’s attorney, Scott Spivey, declined to comment.
Smith wrote in three separate opinions that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that marriage is a constitutional right equally held by all Americans “is the law of the land and, consequently, the law of this circuit, and should not be taken lightly by actors within jurisdiction of this court,” Smith wrote.
People seeking legalization of same-sex marriage had won cases at the district level in Mississippi and Texas but lost in Louisiana. Public officials in all three states had opposed any change, but had conceded in letters to the court in recent days that the proper course was to conclude the cases with final orders from the district judges legalizing same-sex marriage. The 5th Circuit dissolved its stay blocking lower court orders in Mississippi and Texas.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves in Jackson quickly issued a final order overturning Mississippi’s constitutional and legal bans on same-sex marriage. U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio had lifted the stay blocking his injunction last week.
Mike Reed, a spokesman for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, wrote in an email that the governor still wanted a final ruling from Feldman.
“Our agencies will follow the Louisiana Constitution until the district court orders us otherwise,” Reed wrote.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said he was cheered by Smith’s decision to include language from the Supreme Court opinion saying that people remained free to disagree with same-sex marriage for religious or other reasons.
“While I still deeply disagree with the decision of five U.S. Supreme Court justices to remove the authority to regulate marriage from states, I am heartened by the 5th Circuit’s implication that it recognizes the rights of people of faith as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” Bryant said in a statement. “As governor, I will my continue efforts to protect the religious liberties of Mississippians.”
Chris Otten, chair of the Forum for Equality Louisiana, which filed Louisiana’s lawsuit, said officials should act at once.
“The state made it very clear that it would follow the Supreme Court decision once the 5th Circuit ruled. We call on Gov. Jindal and all state officials to honor the 5th Circuit’s command,” he said in a statement.
Roberta Kaplan, who represented the Mississippi plaintiffs, was more succinct.
“It’s over,” she told The Associated Press by telephone.
Spokespeople for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
All parishes in Louisiana now say they are willing to issue licenses to same-sex couples, and holdouts among Mississippi counties dwindled sharply Wednesday after a group of seven circuit clerks met with Gov. Phil Bryant and representatives of Attorney General Jim Hood.