Texas appealed a court decision that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, a ruling praised by gay rights supporters as a major victory in nationwide litigation spurred by a 2013 Supreme Court ruling.
The state constitution was amended in 2005 to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples and reject recognition of such unions performed in another state. In an opinion yesterday, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio left the state ban in place in expectation of an appeal.
Garcia agreed with the two plaintiff couples that last year’s Supreme Court ruling recognizing same-sex marriage for purposes of federal benefits undermines the state law. Texas filed notice today of its appeal of Garcia’s preliminary injunction to the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans. A trial has yet to be scheduled.
“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,” Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, said yesterday.
Garcia wrote in his opinion that “Texas’s current marriage laws deny homosexual couples the right to marry, and in doing so, demean their dignity for no legitimate reason.” A former state representative and member of the Texas Court of Appeals, Garcia, 61, was appointed to the U.S. court in 1994 by Democratic President Bill Clinton.
While acknowledging the state’s argument that an injunction would be “rewriting over 150 years of Texas law and radically altering the status quo,” Garcia said that “keeping tradition and history intact is not a justification for the infringement of an individual’s rights.”
Gay marriage is legal in 17 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Federal appeals courts have been grappling with the issue following the high court ruling in June overturning part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The court didn’t say whether similar state laws should be struck down and, separately, left standing a lower-court order ending a ban on same-sex marriage in California, the most populous U.S. state.
California had 38.3 million residents as of last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Texas, the second-largest, had 26.4 million.
Similar lawsuits are pending in states including Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan. Utah, Virginia and Oklahoma officials are appealing federal court orders striking down prohibitions on gay marriage.
Meanwhile, attorneys general in Nevada and Oregon have stopped defending their states’ statutes in trial and appellate courts. Lawyers on all sides see the issue as eventually headed back to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Texas suit was filed by Cleopatra de Leon and Nicole Dimetman, who were married in Boston in 2009 and seek recognition of their union. The other plaintiffs, Victor Holmes and Mark Phariss, were denied a marriage license in Texas.
“Plaintiffs will continue to suffer state-sanctioned discrimination and the stigma that accompanies it until they too can enjoy the same rights that every heterosexual enjoys,” lawyers for one of the couples said in court papers.
The state argued that Garcia shouldn’t overturn the ban because it was “overwhelmingly approved” by voters, Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a filing last year opposing the injunction.
The case is De Leon v. Perry, 5:13-cv-982, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (San Antonio).