Judge Rules Texas' Gay Marriage Ban is Unconstitutional

By Edgar Walters, The Texas Tribune

Published 02/26 2014 01:53PM

Updated 02/26 2014 01:55PM

A federal judge in San Antonio ruled Wednesday that Texas' ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

Presiding U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia is the latest of a slate of federal judges in Republican states to rule against same-sex marriage bans, following last year's U.S. Supreme Court case Windsor v. U.S., which required the federal government — but not states — to recognize same-sex marriages.

In the ruling, he wrote that the same-sex marriage ban "violates plaintiffs' equal protection and due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution." Though he struck down the ban, he has stayed the effect of the ruling, meaning same-sex couples will not immediately be able to get married in Texas. Another federal court in Austin has pending cases challenging the same-sex marriage ban.

The case, heard in San Antonio federal court, challenged the legitimacy of Texas’ constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. It is one of several cases being heard in courts statewide, a venue in which gay rights activists say their odds of winning legal protections are far better than in the conservative state Legislature.

The San Antonio suit, which was was brought by two couples, sought to overturn Texas’ constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Plaintiffs Nicole Dimetman and Cleopatra De Leon, who were married in Massachusetts in 2009, argued that the state's gay marriage ban had caused them undue hardship that other married couples do not face. For example, the couple have one child together, but because Texas does not recognize their union, only one parent's name was allowed on the birth certificate.

The plaintiffs, joined by gay rights advocates around the country, rested their hopes on Garcia, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton and is the brother-in-law of Democratic lieutenant governor candidate and state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio. Advocates speculated that Garcia would be more sympathetic to same-sex couples than District Judge Sam Sparks, an appointee of George H. W. Bush in Austin, who is set to hear two similar lawsuits challenging the same-sex marriage ban later this year.

Garcia's decision will likely be appealed to a higher court. The case could make its way the U.S. Supreme Court, which could issue a decision on same-sex marriage with national implications. Other federal courts in recent months have issued rulings in favor of same-sex marriage, and more cases are pending nationwide.

In both federal and state court, activists are seeking to increase legal protections for gay and lesbian Texans by challenging the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and by pushing the state to recognize gay marriages granted in other states, including in instances of divorce. Opponents of gay marriage, meanwhile, are defending the state's constitutional ban and challenging the city of Houston's recent expansion of partner benefits to cover same-sex spouses of city employees. Challenges to Texas gay rights' laws come amid a national effort by activists to end restrictions on their ability to marry. And a win in Texas would be a major coup for either side of the debate.

Opponents of same-sex marriage disapprove of the legal challenges to Texas' gay marriage ban. They say the issue is best left to voters and point to the overwhelming public vote that allowed the gay marriage ban to be added to the state constitution. In 2005, 76 percent of Texas voters approved an amendement that limited marriage in Texas to one man and one woman. 

Jonathan Saenz, president of the conservative group Texas Values, said earlier this month that the definition of marriage is “an issue that is so clear and foundational in history and law.” 

If a federal judge were to rule against the Texas amendment banning same-sex marriage, he said at the time, “it would certainly call into question whether or not the state of Texas continues to have the ability to prevent the federal government forcing its will on the Texas people."

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/02/26/federal-judge-rules-texas-gay-marriage-ban-unconst/.

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