AUSTIN, TEXAS (TIP): A federal judge declared a same-sex marriage ban in deeply conservative Texas unconstitutional on February 26, but will allow the second-most populous US state to enforce the law pending an appeal that will likely go to the Supreme Court. The ruling is the latest in a series of victories for gay rights activists following similar decisions in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia. Judge Orlando Garcia issued the preliminary injunction after two gay couples challenged a state constitutional amendment and a longstanding law. It is one of a tangled web of lawsuits across the US expected to end up in the Supreme Court next year.
“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.” Garcia said the couples are likely to win their case and the ban should be lifted, but said he would not enforce his ruling pending a ruling by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which already is hearing two other states’ cases.
He also will give Texas time to appeal to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Garcia, appointed by President Bill Clinton, is the first judge in the conservative 5th Circuit to reach such a decision. Texas attorney general Greg Abbott was expected to file an expedited appeal. 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 violated their rights by not recognizing their marriage conducted in a state where gay marriage is legal.
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. 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. “Today’s ruling by Judge Garcia is a huge victory that moves Texas one step closer to the freedom to marry,” said Chuck Smith, executive director of the gay rights group Equality Texas.