HOUSTON — A federal judge in Texas struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage Wednesday, ruling that the laws restricting marriage to a man and a woman violated the US Constitution, handing gay rights advocates a major legal victory in one of the biggest and most conservative states in the country.
The judge wrote that the amendment to the state Constitution that Texas voters approved in 2005 defining marriage as between a man and a woman — and two similar laws passed in 1997 and 2003 — denied gay couples the right to marry and demeaned their dignity “for no legitimate reason.”
“Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution,” wrote Judge Orlando L. Garcia of US District Court for the Western District of Texas, in San Antonio.
While significant, Garcia’s ruling will have no immediate effect. The judge issued a stay on his decision pending a likely appeal by the state’s lawyers to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, which is known as one of the country’s most conservative appeals panels.
State officials quickly criticized the ruling.
“The US Supreme Court has ruled over and over again that states have the authority to define and regulate marriage,” state Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a statement. “The Texas Constitution defines marriage as between one man and one woman. If the Fifth Circuit honors those precedents, then today’s decision should be overturned and the Texas Constitution will be upheld.”
Saying that Texas voters had already decided, Governor Rick Perry said in a statement state officials “will continue to fight for the rights of Texans to self-determine the laws of our state.”
The ruling by Garcia, who was appointed by President Clinton in 1994, was the latest in a series of legal decisions that have overturned bans or lifted restrictions on same-sex marriage in several states, some in the South and the Bible Belt.
A federal judge overturned Virginia’s ban early this month, a day after Kentucky was ordered to honor same-sex marriages performed in other states. In Oklahoma, the state’s amendment barring same-sex marriage was recently ruled unconstitutional, while a federal judge in Utah reached the same conclusion about that state’s amendment.
In the Texas case, lawyers for two gay and lesbian couples who sued the state had argued that the ban on same-sex marriage perpetuated discrimination and put a financial, legal, and emotional burden on homosexual couples.
One couple in the case, Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman, traveled to Boston in 2009 to get married, but Texas does not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, under one law overturned Wednesday. De Leon is the biological mother of the couple’s 2-year-old son, but Dimetman had to adopt the child because Texas did not consider her the child’s parent.
“Ultimately, the repeal of Texas’s ban will mean that our son will never know how this denial of equal protections demeaned our family and belittled his parents’ relationship,” De Leon and Dimetman said in a statement. “We look forward to the day when, surrounded by friends and family, we can renew our vows in our home state of Texas.”
In court papers and at a recent hearing, the state’s lawyers argued that the Supreme Court decision in June, which declared parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, left states the authority to define and restrict marriage. The lawyers denied that Texas’s laws were rooted in prejudice, linking the bills instead to the state’s interest in protecting traditional marriage to promote procreation and child-rearing by a mother and a father in “stable and enduring family units.”