By Ruth Conniff
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A federal judge in San Antonio ruled Wednesday (PDF) that the same sex marriage ban in Texas violates the Constitution by depriving the LGBT community of equal protection under the law.
"Today's Court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Texas Legislature, but in compliance with the United States Constitution and Supreme Court precedent," Judge Orlando Garcia, with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, explained in his ruling.
"Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our U.S. Constitution," he continued. "Furthermore, Supreme Court precedent prohibits states from passing legislation born out of animosity against homosexuals, has extended constitutional protection to the moral and sexual choices of homosexuals, and prohibits the federal government from treating state-sanctioned opposite-sex marriage and same-sex marriages differently."
Despite the clarity of his findings, Judge Garcia placed the preliminary injunction order on a temporary hold pending an appeal. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican running for governor this year, will assuredly appeal the ruling as soon as possible. It's also likely that marriage equality will once again become a political football in Texas, much as it was in 2005 when Proposition 2, the same sex marriage ban, was approved by voters during the general election.
The lawsuit that triggered Tuesday's ruling was a combination of two federal civil rights suits, filed by two same-sex couples in Texas: Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman in one case, and Mark Phariss and Victor Holmes in the other.
Judge Garcia's ruling will now move up to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which equality advocates fear may rule on the side of Texas. Citing the same precedent as Judge Garcia, federal courts have handed down similar rulings on marriage equality in Oklahoma, Virginia and Utah. Still, the circuit courts have been divided on the matter, and it may be a year or more before the Supreme Court either takes up a review or declines cases brought against state same sex marriage bans.
"Today's ruling by Judge Garcia is a huge victory that moves Texas one step closer to the freedom to marry," Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas, said in an advisory. "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. We are gratified to see Judge Garcia uphold the Constitution of the United States and declare that Texas's restrictions on the freedom to marry are unconstitutional and unenforceable."