Texas
10:36 am
Thu February 27, 2014

What's Next For Texas After Same-Sex Marriage Ruling?

Now that a federal judge has found Texas' ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, the state is appealing the ruling to a higher court. 

So what does this mean for the plaintiffs and the state?

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia wrote that even though states can regulate marriage, "Texas’ prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process."

That's "because they fail the rational basis test," says Neel Lane, the San Antonio-based attorney for the plaintiffs. "There’s no rational basis for restrictions on same-sex marriage. And therefore they are unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."

Lane says yesterday's ruling is particularly significant for people in Texas – the largest state in the nation that doesn't recognize same-sex marriages. But the ruling doesn’t mean gay couples can get married in Texas just yet, because the judge delayed the effect of his ruling until the state appeals the decision.

Nicole Dimetman, one of the plaintiffs in the case, says the hold on his ruling didn't dampen her happiness yesterday.

"It's still a huge step because what it says is, 'Hey, this law is unconstitutional but let’s go ahead and make sure that we don’t infuse confusion into the process by staying what is sure to be appealed by the state of Texas,'" Dimetman says.
She and Cleopatra DeLeon live in Austin, but got married in Massachusetts.

"We had to set up extensive wills and powers of attorney," Dimetman says. "Thank goodness we had the wherewithal to do those things. I also had to adopt our son, even though he was born while we were married. And that would not have been the case if the laws in Texas had been different."

The case goes now to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Jonathan Saenz, president of conservative lobbying group Texas Values, thinks the judges there will rule in the state’s favor..

"The federal case and Supreme Court Case of Windsor that we hear a lot about last summer did this: It said that the federal government cannot impose a definition of marriage different than the one of the state," Saenz says. "That means that Texas, in turn, can define marriage as one man and one woman. The decision said what the federal government cannot do, not what the states cannot do."

In United States v. Windsor, the High Court struck down a major part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. That law had defined marriage as between a man and a woman for the purpose of federal law.

In a statement yesterday, Gov. Rick Perry said it’s not the federal government’s role to overturn the will of Texans.

"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," Gov. Perry said.

Voters in Texas approved the state constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage in 2005 by a three-to-one margin.

Meanwhile, attorney Lane says it could be another few months before the appeals court in New Orleans takes up the case.

Since late last year, federal judges have ruled against bans on same-sex marriage in Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia. Those decisions have also been stayed pending appeals.