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Supporters of true marriage got a needed legal boost Wednesday afternoon as the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the legality of marriage protection laws in four states – Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

The 2-1 ruling – the first of its kind from a federal appellate court – sets the stage for a Supreme Court intervention, as there are now conflicting opinions at the appellate level as to the legality of laws that define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Four separate Circuit Courts have issued rulings striking down dozens of marriage protection laws across the nation.  Those courts say limiting marriage to heterosexual couples violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by excluding gay couples from the legal and societal benefits of marriage.

But in Wednesday’s ruling, Judge Jeffrey Sutton, writing for the majority, argued that the courts have no right to redefine marriage against the expressed wishes of the majority of citizens who voted to enact marriage protection laws in the first place.

“This is a case about change—and how best to handle it under the United States Constitution,” Sutton wrote.  “For better, for worse, or for more of the same, marriage has long been a social institution defined by relationships between men and women. So long defined, the tradition is measured in millennia, not centuries or decades. So widely shared, the tradition until recently had been adopted by all governments and major religions of the world.”

“When the courts do not let the people resolve new social issues like this one, they perpetuate the idea that the heroes in these change events are judges and lawyers,” Sutton added. “Better in this instance, we think, to allow change through the customary political processes, in which the people, gay and straight alike, become the heroes of their own stories by meeting each other not as adversaries in a court system but as fellow citizens seeking to resolve a new social issue in a fair-minded way.”

Sutton also questioned whether a redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples might lead to unintended consequences such as legalized polygamy.

“[G]overnments got into the business of defining marriage, and remain in the business of defining marriage, not to regulate love but to regulate sex, most especially the intended and unintended effects of male-female intercourse,” Sutton wrote. “Imagine a society without marriage. It does not take long to envision problems that might result from an absence of rules about how to handle the natural effects of male-female intercourse: children.”

“May men and women follow their procreative urges wherever they take them?” Sutton wrote.  “Who is responsible for the children that result? How many mates may an individual have? How does one decide which set of mates is responsible for which set of children?”

“Once one accepts a need to establish such ground rules, and most especially a need to create stable family units for the planned and unplanned creation of children, one can well appreciate why the citizenry would think that a reasonable first concern of any society is the need to regulate male-female relationships and the unique procreative possibilities of them,” Sutton wrote.  “People may not need the government’s encouragement to have sex. And they may not need the government’s encouragement to propagate the species. But they may well need the government’s encouragement to create and maintain stable relationships within which children may flourish.”

Pro-marriage leaders praised the 6th Circuit’s ruling, calling it “a model … of restraint and humility.”

“What Sixth Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton has given us is a model opinion for every judge in the nation,” said Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America.  “He showed a judicial restraint and humility that is much needed in our judiciary. Although it is true that 32 states have legalized same-sex 'marriage,' 22 of them had it foisted on them by activist judges who were compelled by personal preferences, not law.”

“Most importantly, the court recognized what we all know, that it is both rational and reasonable for millions of Americans to believe marriage should be preserved for the union of one man and one woman,” added Nance.  “Despite opponents' efforts to shut down debate through name calling and job loss, millions of Americans still believe that the redefinition of marriage has religious, cultural, and economic consequences.”

Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage also complimented the 6th Circuit for resisting the temptation to legislate from the bench.

“We have been awaiting this decision for some time,” Brown said, “and welcome it not only as a tremendous victory, but as a common sense recognition that it is not for the federal courts to substitute their judgment about whether same-sex 'marriage' is a good idea or not, but to leave it to the people to make the decision about this fundamental institution.”

Brown added, “In the vast majority of states that now have redefined marriage, it's been judges and not voters who have done this. The movement to redefine marriage does not benefit from having momentum, it benefits from the exercise of raw political power by federal and state judges and politicians bent of imposing their politically-correct view of the world on the American people.”

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council (FRC) said in a statement that as more judges force gay “marriage” on the populace, public opinion has begin to turn as people come face-to-face with the ramifications of the decision.

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“We applaud the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit for upholding the freedom of the people to define marriage as the union of a man and woman.   The Sixth Circuit rightly recognizes that the Constitution does not demand that this modern redefinition of marriage be forced on the States.   The American people simply will not accept a nationwide redefinition of marriage imposed on them by a judicial oligarchy,” Perkins said.

“As the debate continues, recent polls and the election demonstrate that support for marriage redefinition is stalling as Americans begin to experience and consider the consequences for religious freedom, free speech, and parental rights,” Perkins added.  “Where marriage is redefined, parents are increasingly finding a wedge being driven between them and their children as school curricula is changed to contradict the morals parents are teaching their children.  And as more and more people lose their livelihoods because they refuse to not just tolerate but celebrate same-sex marriage, many Americans are beginning to see that this is about far more than the marriage alter [sic], but is about fundamentally altering society.”

Both judges who ruled in favor of allowing states to define marriage for themselves are appointees of former President George W. Bush.  Dissenting was Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey, a Clinton appointee.

The gay plaintiffs in the case have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling.  Previously, the high court had refused to hear appeals on the issue.  Now that there is a difference in opinion between the various Circuit Courts, it seems inevitable that they will have to take up the case.  The biggest question is when.  The justices have until January 16 to agree to hear the case during the current session, which ends in June.  Otherwise, it’s likely no decision will be made before the end of next year’s session, in June 2016.