Texas Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional, Federal Judge Rules

Judges in Utah, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Virginia have also ruled against state bans.

Couples Cleopatra De Leon, front left, and partner, Nicole Dimetman, front right, and Victor Holmes, back left, and partner Mark Phariss, back right, leave the U.S. Federal Courthouse on Feb. 12, 2014, in San Antonio. Judge Orlando Garcia ruled the two couples have a right to marry, striking down the Texas same-sex marriage ban Wednesday.

Couples Cleopatra De Leon, front left, and partner, Nicole Dimetman, front right, and Victor Holmes, back left, and partner Mark Phariss, back right, leave the U.S. Federal Courthouse on Feb. 12, 2014, in San Antonio. Judge Orlando Garcia ruled Thursday the two couples have a right to wed, striking down Texas' same-sex marriage ban.

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U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia ruled Wednesday that Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, joining several other federal judges who have struck down marriage bans citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2013 U.S. v. Windsor decision.

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

The ban was approved by the Texas legislature, signed by Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, and approved by 76 percent of state voters in November 2005. Residents of 253 out of 254 counties voted for the ban.

Garcia, appointed to his position by President Bill Clinton in 1994, stayed implementation of his ruling pending appeal.

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Since December federal judges in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia have ruled similar marriage bans unconstitutional while federal judges in Ohio and Kentucky have invalidated parts of those states’ marriage restrictions.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby of Utah was the first to strike down a state marriage ban invoking the Windsor ruling. He refused to stay his Dec. 20 decision, allowing hundreds of gay couples to marry before the Supreme Court halted implementation of the decision Jan. 6.

In its Windsor ruling a 5-4 majority of Supreme Court justices invalidated the section of the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal. Conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia objected to that ruling, in which the majority found a lack of federal recognition unconstitutionally ”demean[ed]” couples and “humiliate[d]” their children.

The Windsor ruling did not force states to recognize same-sex marriage, but Scalia predictively wrote in his dissent: "How easy it is, indeed how inevitable, to reach the same conclusion with regard to state laws denying same-sex couples marital status.”

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The federal court victories come as gay rights advocates reach a lull in legislative activity. Many of the states where polling suggests significant support for same-sex marriage - such as Colorado, Nevada and Oregon - have constitutional amendments banning it, making the road to legalization more difficult.

Federal courts have historically been hostile to gay couples suing for the right to marry. Of the 17 states that currently allow same-sex marriage, only in California was it enabled by federal judges in decisions the Supreme Court allowed to stand without review last year. 

Five of the states where same-sex marriage is legal were forced to allow it by state courts and the other 11 states and Washington, D.C., legalized it without court action through their legislatures, by ballot measure or both.

Read the ruling, via The Dallas Morning News: