Even though the state is expected to appeal the decision, the ruling is a major victory for gay rights activists
A federal judge in San Antonio ruled Wednesday that Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution and demeans the dignity of gay couples “for no legitimate reason.”
Judge Orlando Garcia then granted two plaintiff couples’ request for an injunction barring the state from enforcing the ban. But, like federal district court judges in Virginia and Oklahoma, Garcia stayed his ruling pending appeal of the case to the federal appeals level.
“This injunction sends a powerful message that gay and lesbian Texans are being harmed every day by inequality, and that these plaintiff couples who we’re proud to call members of the HRC family are very likely to succeed in striking down Texas’ ban on marriage equality,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said.
“This is a historic day in the heart of the South, and I can’t stress enough how important it is to move quickly until loving couples in all 50 states feel the full reach of this victory for equality.”
The two couples, Mark Phariss and Victor Holmes of Plano, and Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman of Austin, filed the unprecedented lawsuit, and it moved quickly through the courts. On Feb. 12, Garcia heard testimony, which included a comment from Mike Murphy, an assistant Texas solicitor general, who said the legalization of same-sex marriage is “a more recent innovation than Facebook.”
After Wednesday’s ruling, Resource Center CEO Cece Cox said the judge’s ruling is “the first step toward dismantling the impediments blocking marriage equality in Texas,” but the decision isn’t the last word on the issued of marriage equality in Texas.
“Just like in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, a stay is in place so marriages will not begin immediately,” Cox said. “Courageous LGBT families will continue to live in loving relationships, despite the fact that the laws of this state are clearly discriminatory. But the day is coming, sooner rather than later, that the unjust laws will be permanently struck down.”
Ken Upton, Lambda Legal Supervising Senior Staff Attorney, called Garcia’s ruling a good opinion — analytical and detailed. Upton noted that he hasn’t seen a difference between the decisions issued in more liberal circuits and those in the more conservative ones.
“The decisions haven’t been tailored for the audiences,” Upton said. “They keep coming up with the same results. Now we’ll see what happens on the appellate level. The momentum and pressure is on the states who want to uphold these bans that are a blanket exclusion of a full class of people.”
Last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government cannot refuse to recognize valid same-sex marriages in states where they are permitted.
Now, Garcia said in his ruling, lower courts must decide “whether a state can do what the federal government cannot — discriminate against same-sex couples.”
“After careful consideration, and applying the law as it must, this court holds that Texas’ prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process,” Garcia wrote.
The state’s laws, he added, deny same-sex couples the same rights to marriage enjoyed by other citizens simply because they wish to be married to someone of the same sex.
“Today’s court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Texas Legislature,” Garcia wrote, “but in compliance with the United States Constitution and Supreme Court precedent.
“Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution.”
Pundits predict the state will likely try to get an expedited hearing in front of the appeals court at the next level, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, but Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance President Patti Fink is confident of a victory.
“When we show up in numbers, we’re unstoppable,” she told a crowd that had gathered at the Legacy of Love monument Wednesday. “We are set on a course for full equality.”
After Garcia’s ruling, the LGBT community took to social media and to the streets to express their feelings. Read their stories below:
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 28, 2014.