A federal judge in Texas ruled Wednesday that the state’s bans on same-sex marriage violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.
U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia granted a preliminary injunction that would bar Texas from enforcing the bans pending trial.
However, Garcia stayed his decision pending an appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Even if he had not stayed the decision, the preliminary injunction would have applied only to the two same-sex couples who filed the lawsuit challenging the marriage bans, known as DeLeon v. Perry.
“The issue before this court is whether Texas’ current definition of marriage is permissible under the United States Constitution,” Garcia wrote in his 48-page decision. “After careful consideration, and applying the laws as it must, the Court holds that Texas’ prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. Texas’ current marriage laws deny homosexual couples the right to marry, and in doing so, demean their dignity for no legitimate reason. Accordingly, the Court finds these laws are unconstitutional and hereby grants a preliminary injunction enjoining Defendants from enforcing Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage.”
Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who’s defending the marriage bans, confirmed in a statement that his office will appeal the decision.
“This is an issue on which there are good, well-meaning people on both sides. 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,” Abbott said. “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.”
Texas Gov. Rick Rick Perry, one of the defendants in the case, also issued a statement.
“Texans spoke loud and clear by overwhelmingly voting to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in our Constitution, and it is not the role of the federal government to overturn the will of our citizens,” Perry said. “The 10th Amendment guarantees Texas voters the freedom to make these decisions, and this is yet another attempt to achieve via the courts what couldn’t be achieved at the ballot box. We will continue to fight for the rights of Texans to self-determine the laws of our state.”
In granting the preliminary injunction Garcia found the plaintiffs met a four-pronged test: They showed a likelihood of success at trial; they showed that continued enforcement of the marriage bans would cause irreparable harm; they showed that this harm outweighs any potential harm to the defendants; and they showed that an injunction would serve the public interest.
“Today’s Court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Legislature, but in compliance with the United States Constitution and Supreme Court precedent,” 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.”
Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas, called the decision “a huge victory that moves Texas one step closer to the freedom to marry.”
“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,” Smith said. “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.”
Cece Cox, CEO of Resource Center, Dallas LGBT community center, said Garcia’s ruling is “good news” for more than 2 million LGBT Texans who strive for equal treatment under the law.
“It is the first step towards dismantling the impediments blocking marriage equality in Texas,” Cox said. “As the judge indicated when he heard oral arguments, the decision will not be the last word on the issue of marriage equality in Texas. Just like in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, a stay is in place so marriages will not begin immediately. 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.”
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin called it a “historic day in the heart of the South.”
“This injunction sends a powerful message that gay and lesbian Texans are being harmed every 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,” 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.”
Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, noted that Garcia is the sixth federal judge in a row to decide “that there is simply no legitimate justification for denying marriage to loving gay and lesbian couples.”
“The court’s holding is solid and serious, and follows the language and logic of the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling last year and the Constitution’s clear command,” Wolfson said. “With 47 marriage cases in 25 states now moving forward, and the possibility that a freedom to marry case will again reach the Supreme Court as soon as 2015, we must continue the conversations and progress — Texan to Texan, American to American — that show that all of America is ready for the freedom to marry.”
Garcia joins federal judges in Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Utah and Oklahoma who’ve struck down state-level bans on same-sex marriage since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last June in Windsor, declaring part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.
DeLeon v. Perry was filed in October by same-sex couples Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes of Plano, and Cleopatra DeLeon and Nicole Dimetman of Austin.
Read Garcia’s full ruling below.