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Federal court finds Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional

Things are likely to change in Texas for same-sex couples because of a Feb. 26, 2014, federal court finding that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law.

Texas marriage licenses will not be issued to couples of the same gender in the immediate future, though. Citing prevention of “legal and practical complications,” the U.S. District Court stayed (delayed enforcement) its preliminary injunction that would have required Texas to stop enforcing its ban pending resolution of state officials’ appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

De Leon v. Perry

Two Texas same-sex couples filed the federal case against Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Texas Attorney General Gerard Rickhoff and the commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. The plaintiffs are:

  • Nicole Dimetman and Cleopatra De Leon were married in Massachusetts. Because Texas does not recognize their marriage as legal, De Leon had to spend considerable money to adopt Dimetman’s biological child in order to become the child’s legal parent.
  • Victor Holmes and Mark Phariss were refused a Texas marriage license.

Judge Orlando L. Garcia wrote a long opinion in which he reviewed the history of federal and state jurisprudence about same-sex relationships, culminating in his conclusion that Texas’ refusal to recognize marriage between two people of the same gender violates the federal Constitution.

Garcia cited U.S. Supreme Court holdings that:

  • Homosexuals have constitutional protection of their private, moral and sexual decisions.
  • The federal government violates the Constitution when it treats legal state same-sex marriages differently than state opposite-sex marriages.
  • States have the authority to regulate marriage, but not in a way that violates constitutional rights.
  • Marriage is a “fundamental right” guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The judge compared a state ban on same-sex marriage to the previously struck-down ban in Virginia on interracial marriage. Garcia found that Texas’ ban on same-gender marriage denies the plaintiffs dignity and the benefits of legal marriage and that the state of Texas did not provide a rational reason to deny them this fundamental right.

He further wrote that Texas law recognizes valid marriages performed in other jurisdictions and that not recognizing the Massachusetts marriage would violate the constitutional right to due process of law. “Tradition” is not a valid basis for violating “individual liberties,” wrote Garcia.

Ultimately, the court found that if Texas is allowed to continue to enforce its ban, the plaintiffs “would suffer irreparable injury.”

Next steps

The nation will be watching to see what happens to De Leon on appeal, but in the meantime life will go on for Texans in same-sex relationships. Anyone in this situation facing legal issues of family law like those related to out-of-state same-sex marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships; federal benefits; adoption and parental rights; child custody; and more should seek the advice of a seasoned Texas family lawyer for advice and representation.