Same-sex marriage laws are crumbling

What happened in Austin this week is more evidence that the laws preventing marriages between same-sex couples are crumbling.

A probate judge ruled against the Texas ban in a case involving the eight-year partner of a woman who died last summer. Separately, a state district judge ordered the Travis County Clerk to ignore “the unconstitutional Texas prohibitions against same-sex marriage” and to issue a marriage license to two women, who were married almost immediately.

Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed quickly to the Texas Supreme Court, which ruled that the two judges couldn’t do that. Still, the fact that they did means change is in the air.

Only higher-court rulings expected soon from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court could stem this change.

What happened this week would have been unthinkable — even in liberal Austin — 10 years ago, when more than 76 percent of Texas voters approved an amendment to the state constitution denying legal status to same-sex marriages.

But it’s been coming at least since June 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law that did the same thing.

Now 37 states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage.

A year ago, a federal district judge in San Antonio ruled the 2005 state constitutional amendment and Texas laws against recognition of same-sex marriage violate the U.S. Constitution. He blocked their enforcement, but he stayed his order pending appeals.

Last month, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit heard arguments in the case. A ruling could come soon.

Meanwhile, as several appeals courts around the nation struck down same-sex marriage bans, the Supreme Court initially declined to hear the cases, leaving the appeals court rulings in place.

Then on Jan. 16, the high court agreed to hear arguments in four cases, probably in April, about whether the 14th Amendment, which guarantees due process and equal protection under the law, forces states to recognize same-sex marriages.

A Supreme Court ruling is expected in late June. It won’t force anyone to change what they believe, but it will be the law of the land.