"Step closer to equality": Texas judge overthrows gay marriage ban

Texas same sex marriage

AUSTIN, Texas - Presiding U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled Wednesday that the ban on marriage equality in the state of Texas is unconstitutional.

In his ruling, the San Antonio judge, a Clinton appointee, wrote that the same-sex marriage ban "violates plaintiffs' equal protection and due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution."

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on U.S. v. Windsor, which required the federal government-but not states-to recognize same-sex marriages. The logical outflow of the decision continues to trickle through various state courts, with the rivulet showing signs of becoming a torrent.

Already, federal court decisions have struck down all or part of state bans on same-sex marriage in Kentucky, Oklahoma and Virginia. Over twenty states face similar cases.

Wrote Judge Garcia in his order, "By denying plaintiffs Holmes and Phariss the fundamental right to marry, Texas denies their relationship the same status and dignity afforded to citizens who are permitted to marry. It also denies them the legal, social, and financial benefits of marriage that opposite-sex couples enjoy...The laws demean their dignity for no legitimate reason."

Garcia stayed the effect of the order, as a federal court in Austin has pending cases challenging the same-sex marriage ban. This means that, for the time being, same-sex couples will not be able to get married in Texas.

Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican candidate for governor, is united with his fellow GOP primary foes in opposing Garcia's decision. Abbott said that the state would appeal.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, Abbott's probable Democratic opponent in November, responded on a more positive note. "I believe that all Texans who love one another and are committed to spending their lives together should be allowed to marry," she said.

State Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in his release that "today, all Texans can celebrate that we are one step closer to justice and equality for all."

Garcia's decision will likely be appealed to a higher court. The case could make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, whose decision would impact the nation.

In 2005, 76 percent of Texas voters approved an amendment that limited marriage and civil unions in Texas to one man and one woman.

The mood of the poll-taking public today? A December 2013 poll from The Public Religion Research Institute showed that 48 percent of Texans favored allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally while 49 percent opposed. This almost-even split marks a dramatic change since 2005. However, Texas still lags behind the national rate of 53 percent in favor to 41 percent opposed.

Wrote Judge Garcia in his ruling, "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."

LGBT-positive developments in federal courts nationwide come against a backdrop of recent conservative-instigated state measures to codify prejudice against the LGBT community. While Arizona Governor Jan Brewer did refuse to sign an anti-gay law this past week, due to pressure from concerned Arizonans and LGBT-tolerant companies, such rear-guard actions could well continue in other states while the nation await the U.S. Supreme Court's revisit of the issue in this or the next term.

Photos: Couples Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman and Victor Holmes and Mark Phariss speak with reporters outside the U.S. Federal Courthouse in San Antonio, Texas, earlier this month. The judge in their case ruled Texas' ban on gay marriage unconstitutional Wednesday. (AP/Eric Gay)

 

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