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Whoa, big news everybody.Federal judge voids Texas’ gay marriage ban, though he delays order from taking effect immediately
By Robert T. Garrett
1:20 pm on February 26, 2014 | Permalink
Mark Phariss of Plano, left, held the hand of partner Victor Holmes, center, as they left the U.S. Federal Courthouse in San Antonio after a hearing earlier this month. On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia ruled Texas' gay marriage ban is unconstitutional. He ruled after the two men from Plano filed a civil rights lawsuit seeking permission to marry, and a lesbian couple sued to have their marriage recognized. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
A federal judge in San Antonio ruled Wednesday that Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutionally deprives some citizens of due process and equal protection under the law by stigmatizing their relationships and treating them differently from opposite-sex couples.
U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia cited recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings as having trumped Texas’ moves to ban gay marriage.
“Today’s court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Texas Legislature, but in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court precedent,” he said in his order. “Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our U.S. Constitution.”
But Garcia’s ruling, while a major victory for groups seeking to make marriage legal for gay and lesbian couples nationwide, will not win them Texas marriage licenses anytime soon.
Although Garcia issued a preliminary injunction against the state’s enforcing its 2003 law and 2005 constitutional amendment that limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, he stayed it from taking effect until his ruling can be reviewed on appeal.
Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running for governor, is almost certain to appeal. Most legal experts expect Garcia’s ruling, or similar ones by federal judges in other states, to eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case he ruled on was brought by two gay men from Plano who want to get married and two Austin lesbians who want Texas to recognize their out-of-state marriage. It is one of three federal lawsuits challenging the Texas ban — and the furthest along. Nationally, similar battles are underway in federal courts in 23 states.
After a hearing earlier this month, Garcia, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, acknowledged that his ruling would be far from the final say on the matter. He predicted the case, or one of 22 similar ones in other states, “will make its way to the Supreme Court.”
In June, the justices ruled, 5-4, that married same-sex couples are entitled to federal benefits.
Seventeen states have broadened the definition of marriage to include gay couples. On Monday, a group called Freedom to Marry announced it has begun a new $1 million campaign to win support for similar measures in the South.
But the region offers entrenched resistance, especially in Texas.
Abbott strongly opposes legalizing gay marriage, as do four of his fellow Republicans in next week’s GOP primary for lieutenant governor. So do three GOP candidates in the race to succeed Abbott as attorney general. It’s been 20 years since a Democrat won a statewide race. The GOP controls the Legislature. In November’s elections, it’s expected to easily retain control.
Arguing the case before Garcia, Mike Murphy, an assistant solicitor general in Abbott’s office, said the four plaintiffs were trying to “rewrite over 150 years of Texas law” by asking courts to intervene in the democratic process.
Voters passed the 2005 amendment banning gay marriage by better than 3-to-1.
In states such as Texas, “legislators and citizens have concluded that the better course is to preserve the traditional definition of marriage,” Murphy told Garcia.
Lawyer Mark Phariss and physician’s assistant Victor Holmes of Plano, who’ve been domestic partners for more than 16 years, brought the suit, along with Austin residents Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman. De Leon and Dimetman got married in Massachusetts in 2009. They have a young son.
Their lawyers, Barry Chasnoff and Neel Lane, argued at the Feb. 12 hearing that it’s only a matter of time before the Supreme Court strikes down gay-marriage bans in Texas and 32 other states.
Chasnoff said the states have violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by denying a privilege — the ability to marry — for reasons mostly of hostility or “animus” toward gay men and lesbians.
Nodding at his clients seated behind him, Chasnoff said, “They are honorable, productive members of society. And yet they are here today because the state of Texas chooses to deny them the right to marry the one they love.”