BREAKING: Federal judge strikes down Texas ban on gay marriage, postpones action pending appeal

Posted on 26 Feb 2014 at 1:58pm
TexasMarriage

THEIR DAY IN COURT | Plano couple Vic Holmes, far left, and Mark Phariss and Austin couple Cleopatra DeLeon and Nicole Dimetman in court Feb. 12. (Photo courtesy of Randy Bear)

A federal judge declared Texas’ ban on gay marriage unconstitutional Wednesday, but left it in place until an appeals court can rule on the case, U.S. News & World Report reported.

Judge Orlando Garcia issued the preliminary injunction after two gay couples challenged a state constitutional amendment and a longstanding law. He said the couples are likely to win their case, and the ban should be lifted, but said he would give the state time to appeal to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals before do so.

“Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution,” Garcia wrote. “These Texas laws deny plaintiffs access to the institution of marriage and its numerous rights, privileges, and responsibilities for the sole reason that Plaintiffs wish to be married to a person of the same sex.”

The ruling is the latest in a series of victories for gay rights activists following similar decisions in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia.

But this was the first time a court in the conservative 5th Circuit has reached such a decision. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott was expected to file an expedited appeal.

“Today’s ruling by Judge Garcia is a huge victory that moves Texas one step closer to the freedom to marry,” said Equality Texas executive director Chuck Smith. “The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Windsor made it clear that animus or moral disapproval is not an acceptable justification for denying any American their constitutional right to equal protection of the law. We are gratified to see Judge Garcia uphold the Constitution of the United States and declare that Texas’ restrictions on the freedom to marry are unconstitutional and unenforceable. We anxiously await the day when the United States Supreme Court will reach the same conclusion.”

Mark Phariss and Victor Holmes filed their federal civil rights lawsuit saying Texas’ ban unconstitutionally denied them the fundamental right to marry because of their sexual orientation. Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman filed a lawsuit saying Texas officials were violating their rights by not recognizing their marriage conducted in a state where gay marriage is legal.

“In granting today’s order, Judge Garcia’s decision relies heavily on the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor and is rooted in law and fairness,” Resource Center CEO Cece Cox said. “It also confirms what we in the LGBT community have known for nearly a decade; the additions to the Texas Constitution and the Texas Family Code, which many fair-minded Texans fought against when it was put to the state’s voters as Amendment 2 in 2005, are discriminatory and violate the United States Constitution.”

Attorneys for the state argued that Texas voters had imposed the ban through a referendum and that Texas officials were within their rights to defend marriage traditions.

“This is an issue on which there are good, well-meaning people on both sides,” a statement by Abbott’s office reads. “And, as the lower court acknowledged today, it’s an issue that will ultimately be resolved by a higher court. Texas will begin that process by appealing today’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit. Because the judge has stayed his own decision, his ruling has no immediate practical effect. Instead, the ultimate decision about Texas law will be made by the Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled over and over again that States have the authority to define and regulate marriage. The Texas Constitution defines marriage as between one man and one woman. If the Fifth Circuit honors those precedents, then today’s decision should be overturned and the Texas Constitution will be upheld.”

Another gay couple has filed a separate lawsuit in federal court in Austin. In that case, two men argue that the ban discriminates against them based on their gender. That case is scheduled for a hearing later this year.

Read the ruling below.

Order on Preliminary Injunction

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