Latest gay marriage ruling being appealed to Louisiana Supreme Court; affects only 3 parishes

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NEW ORLEANS — One day after a Lafayette Parish judge declared Louisiana's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, the state's top lawyer announced plans to challenge that decision before the state Supreme Court.

Attorney General Buddy Caldwell's Office will ask the high court to overturn Judge Edward Rubin's ruling, spokeswoman Laura Gerdes said Tuesday.

Rubin's ruling, handed down Monday in the same-sex adoption case of Angela Costanza and her partner, Chasity Brewer, affects only the 15th Judicial District, which also includes Acadia and Vermilion parishes.

Rubin said Constanza may adopt her partner's son and be listed as a parent on his birth certificate. The couple's lawsuit said the state should recognize their marriage, which took place in California.

"We are all born with a gender, a race, and a sexual orientation," their attorney, Josh Guillory, said in an email late Monday. Rubin "is a judicial hero and has made a bold step in the fight for equality," he wrote.

Whether the ruling lets gays marry immediately in the 15th Judicial District would depend on how Rubin phrased his order, said M. Isabel Medina, a Loyola University New Orleans law professor with expertise in civil rights and gender discrimination.

Brewer said she was told the ruling would be made public Tuesday after being rewritten to delete information identifying the child.

State court rulings are not affected by a federal judge's ruling in New Orleans that the law is constitutional, but Louisiana's justices may use it for guidance, Medina said.

Nor is U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman's ruling binding on federal judges in Louisiana's Middle District, based in Baton Rouge, or its Western District, which has courthouses in Shreveport, Lafayette, Alexandria, Lake Charles and Monroe.

"It would be regarded as precedent. But the other courts would be able to make up their own minds," said Keith Werhan, an expert in constitutional law at Tulane University. He noted that Feldman considered federal court rulings that struck down same-sex marriage bans in more than 20 other states but handed down a ruling counter to those.

What the U.S. Supreme Court does will be more important, anyway, Werhan said.

"All state court rulings, no matter how they go, are probably temporary in nature," he said.

U.S. Supreme Court justices will discuss in a closed-door conference Monday whether to hear any or all of the appeals from Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin, where federal judges struck down bans on same-sex marriage. That meeting — the justices' first since June — will be the first time the issue is before them.

That doesn't mean the court will immediately decide to hear any or all of the cases. It could decide as late as January for a ruling by late June.

"In the great scheme of things, I think if the Supreme Court doesn't decide the matter this term, it will very soon," Werhan said.

Medina said it's good to see such a ruling coming up from state district court. "I think it's easier for communities to accept those changes when they come from the communities themselves," she said. And to the extent that the judge's ruling represents that this is a community coming to this conclusion, I think it makes it easier for the state as a whole to respond favorably. It's not just something coming from Washington, from the federal Supreme Court.

"It's coming from the ground up here."

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