US judge strikes down Texas gay marriage ban as 'state-imposed inequality'

Texas is the fourth conservative state since December to have a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage struck down by a federal judge, joining Utah, Oklahoma, and Virginia.

Jerry Lara/San Antonio Express-News/AP
Gay couples from left, Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman, and Mark Phariss and Victor Holmes, give a news conference in San Antonio on Wednesday, Feb. 26 after US Federal Judge Orlando Garcia declared a same-sex marriage ban in deeply conservative Texas unconstitutional.

A federal judge in San Antonio Wednesday struck down a Texas constitutional amendment and state statutes barring same-sex couples from marrying or having their out-of-state marriages officially recognized, saying such laws violate the couples’ right to equal treatment.

US District Judge Orlando Garcia announced his decision two weeks after hearing arguments by lawyers for two same-sex couples challenging the Texas measures and by state officials defending those measures.

“This Court holds that Texas’ prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process,” Judge Garcia declared in his 48-page opinion.

“Texas’ current marriage laws deny homosexual couples the right to marry, and in doing so, demean their dignity for no legitimate reason,” he wrote.

“Accordingly, the Court finds these laws are unconstitutional and hereby grants a preliminary injunction enjoining [Texas officials] from enforcing Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage.”

The judge said he would stay implementation of the injunction pending resolution of expected appeals.

Garcia is the fourth federal judge to strike down a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage since December. Judges in Utah, Oklahoma, and Virginia have issued similar decisions.

The decisions are significant because they come in conservative states that took the extra, burdensome step of enacting amendments to their state constitutions limiting marriage to one man and one woman.

All four judges who struck down the constitutional amendments were appointed by Democratic presidents. Judge Garcia was appointed by former President Clinton.

The Texas decision means that the same-sex marriage issue likely will soon be presented as an appeal to the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals based in New Orleans. The Utah and Oklahoma cases are already on appeal at the Tenth Circuit in Denver, and the Virginia decision is heading to the Fourth Circuit in Richmond.

If the three appeals courts reach conflicting outcomes in the cases it would almost guarantee the intervention of the US Supreme Court.

Judge Garcia’s decision raises the same issues and reaches the same conclusions that each of the three other judges decided. He said the Texas ban violates the same-sex couples’ right to equal treatment and violates what he said was a fundamental right to marry regardless of gender orientation.

He did not cite a Supreme Court case explicitly recognizing such a right.

The judge rejected the state’s justifications for limiting marriage to one man and one woman. Texas had argued that limiting marriage to heterosexual couples would increase the likelihood that children would be raised by their own father and mother in a stable household. The state also argued that the limit would help encourage “responsible procreation” among heterosexual couples.

The judge said he found no rational basis supporting to the state’s claims.

Lawyers for Texas had argued that the fundamental right to marry does not include a right to marry someone of the same sex.

The judge said the Supreme Court’s rulings in gay rights cases and a decision striking down a ban on interracial marriage established that the right to marry could not be limited.

“The Court finds that Texas cannot define marriage in a way that denies its citizens the freedom of personal choice in deciding whom to marry, nor may it deny the same status and dignity to each citizen’s decision,” he said.

Judge Garcia acknowledged that his ruling was invalidating actions by Texas voters and Texas lawmakers. But he said his role was to uphold the rights of all Texans.

“Today’s Court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Texas Legislature, but in compliance with the United States Constitution and Supreme Court precedent,” he said.

“Without a rational relation to a legitimate government purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution,” he said.

The case is Cleopatra De Leon v. Rick Perry (13CV982). It was heard in the San Antonio division of the Western District of Texas.

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