- Associated Press - Thursday, November 6, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A federal appeals court upheld Tennessee law prohibiting the recognition of same-sex marriages, even if they are performed in other states.

The Thursday ruling marks a rare victory for gay marriage opponents. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel voted 2-1 to uphold same-sex marriage restrictions in Tennessee as well as Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky.

In Tennessee, three couples who were married in other states were seeking to force the state to recognize their unions. The ruling concluded that states have the right to set rules for marriage. Both Tennessee law and the state constitution recognize only marriages between one man and one woman.

Bill Harbison, an attorney for the couples, said he was disappointed but not ready to talk about the ruling.

“At this point, we’re still reviewing it. We need to talk it over with our clients,” he said.

While not saying whether they plan to appeal the decision, another attorney for the couples, Regina Lambert, wrote in an email that, “We are hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately resolve 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.”

The Supreme Court on Oct. 6 unexpectedly turned away appeals from five states seeking to prohibit gay and lesbian unions, effectively making gay marriage legal in 30 states. But the 6th Circuit’s ruling creates a divide among federal appeals courts, increasing the likelihood the Supreme Court will now take up the issue.

Republican Lt. Gov Ron Ramsey praised the ruling in a post on his Facebook page on Thursday.

“Today’s ruling by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals explicitly affirms our state’s right to define marriage,” he wrote.

The majority opinion for the panel was authored by Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton, a President George W. Bush appointee in 2003.

During oral arguments in August, Sutton had questioned the timing of the challenge to the Tennessee law and asked Harbison whether his clients were trying to speed up the pace of change before citizens and lawmakers were ready to act. Sutton also wondered why Harbison’s clients didn’t push a ballot initiative several years ago.

Harbison said that gay rights weren’t easy to back over the years, but that had changed.

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