Federal judge rules Texas’ gay marriage ban unconstitutional

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 federal judge in a Republican state to rule against a ban on same-sex marriage. The decisions follow last year’s Supreme Court case U.S. v. Windsor, which required the federal government — but not states — to recognize same-sex marriages.

In the ruling, he wrote that the 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 ban.

Attorney General Greg Abbott, who was a defendant in the case, along with Gov. Rick Perry, said in a statement that he will appeal Garcia’s decision, adding that it “should be overturned and the Texas Constitution will be upheld.”

On the issue of gay marriage, Abbott said that “there are good, well-meaning people on both sides” and that it “will ultimately be resolved by a higher court.”

State Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, Abbott’s likely Democratic opponent in the governor’s race, also weighed in: “I believe that all Texans who love one another and are committed to spending their lives together should be allowed to marry.”

Davis has previously voiced support for same-sex marriage on the campaign trail.

Perry, meanwhile, issued this statement: “Texans spoke loud and clear by overwhelmingly voting to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in our Constitution, and it is not the role of the federal government to overturn the will of our citizens.”

He added that “the 10th Amendment guarantees Texas voters the freedom to make these decisions.”

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 where gay-rights activists say their odds of winning legal protections are far better than in the conservative Legislature.

Two couples in lawsuit

The San Antonio suit, brought by two couples, sought to overturn the ban.

Plaintiffs Nicole Dimetman and Cleopatra De Leon, who were married in Massachusetts in 2009, argued that the ban had caused them undue hardship that other married couples do not face.

For example, the couple have a 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 nationwide, 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 in Austin, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush’s who is set to hear two lawsuits challenging the same-sex marriage ban.

Garcia’s decision will likely be appealed, and the case might make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could issue a decision on same-sex marriage with national implications.

Other federal courts 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 ban on same-sex marriage and pushing the state to recognize gay marriages granted in other states, including in instances of divorce.

The two couples who filed the lawsuit said they are pleased and encouraged.

“We are extremely happy — happy beyond words,” Mark Phariss, 54, a corporate lawyer, and Victor Holmes, 44, a physician’s assistant, said in a statement after the ruling.

The Plano couple, who have been together for about 17 years, were in San Antonio for the ruling.

Dimetman and De Leon released a statement saying they “remain hopeful that this matter will continue to move quickly through the courts.”

The Austin couple told the Los Angeles Times that they took legal action partly because they want their 20-month-old son to see them treated equally.

“Ultimately, the repeal of Texas’ ban will mean that our son will never know how this denial of equal protections demeaned our family and belittled his parents’ relationship. We look forward to the day when, surrounded by friends and family, we can renew our vows in our home state of Texas,” they said Wednesday.

Opposing views

Opponents of gay marriage, meanwhile, are defending the state’s ban and challenging Houston’s expansion of partner benefits to cover same-sex spouses of city employees.

The legal challenges in Texas come amid a national effort by activists to end restrictions on the ability of gays to marry. 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 ban to be added to the state constitution. In 2005, 76 percent of Texas voters approved an amendment that limited marriage to one man and one woman.

Jonathan Saenz, president of the conservative group Texas Values, said 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 ban, 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 from forcing its will on the Texas people.”

This report includes material from the Los Angeles Times.

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