(WBIR) A federal appeals court in Cincinnati has upheld laws against same-sex marriage in four states, including Tennessee. The ruling creates a split among the nation's circuit courts and virtually guarantees Supreme Court review.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed district court rulings that had struck down gay marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. The court had heard from six same-sex couples from those four states, including West Knoxville couple, Valeria Tanco and Sophy Jesty.
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Tanco and Jesty married in another state where same-sex marriage is recognized, before moving to Tennessee. In Tanco v. Haslam, the couple along with two other same-sex couples argue the state's failure to recognize their marriages creates an unconstitutional burden. In March, a federal judge in Nashville ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, but that ruling was stayed a month later by the appeals court.
Tanco and Jesty's attorney issued a statement after the court ruling was released Thursday afternoon saying,
"Obviously we are disappointed with the decision. It is completely inconsistent with dozens of federal court decisions since Windsor – including four U.S. appellate courts - that have ruled that same-sex couples and their children are entitled to the same dignity and legal protection as other families. The freedom to marry is one of the most basic rights protected by our constitution, and one that belongs to every American, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. We are hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately resolves this matter and rule that equal protection requires Tennessee, and every state, to treat same-sex couples and their children with the same respect as other families."
In response to the court ruling, the Tennessee Attorney General issued a statement saying,
"The State has maintained that its democratically enacted marriage laws do not violate constitutional rights. We are gratified that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has now essentially agreed with that position and, in doing so, has left the definition of marriage in "the place it has been since the founding: in the hands of state voters."
Thursday's appeals court ruling gives Supreme Court justices an appellate ruling that runs counter to four others from the 4th, 7th, 9th and 10th circuits. Those rulings struck down same-sex marriage bans in Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Utah, Idaho and Nevada and led to similar action in neighboring states.
Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry, including the five states from which the high court turned down appeals. Tennessee banned same-sex marriage in 1996 by state statute, and then voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional ban in 2006.
The Tennessee Equality Project plans to hold a rally Friday evening at 7:00 following the decision. They plan to march to Market Square, voicing their disapproval over this decision. More information can be found on their Facebook page.
The Tennessean, Associated Press and USA Today contributed to this report.