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Texas Federal Court Is Latest To Strike Down State Prohibitions On Same-Sex Marriage

On Wednesday, Feb. 26, U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia of the Western District of Texas struck down the Texas ban on same-sex marriage. This ruling was the latest in a series of federal rulings handed down in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (U.S. 2013).  In Windsor, the Court considered the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), 1 U.S.C.S. § 7, which denied recognition of same-sex marriages. Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, held that DOMA was unconstitutional as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution

Following the June 2013 ruling in Windsor, courts began to reconsider the constitutionality of the various state statutes and constitutional provisions banning same-sex marriage. In December of last year, Utah Federal Judge Robert J. Shelby entered judgment enjoining the enforcement of Utah Code Ann. §§ 30-1-2(5) and 30-1-4.1 as well as Amendment 3 to the Utah Constitution. 2013 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 14658. He found that Amendment 3, which denied gay and *** citizens access to marriage, did not elevate the status of opposite-sex marriage; it merely demeaned the dignity of same-sex couples. The same day the opinion was rendered, Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert and the other state official defendants filed a motion to stay the injunction and also filed an appeal. The motion for stay was denied on Dec. 23, 2013, but the U.S. Supreme Court entered a Jan. 6, 2014, order to stay the injunction pending appeal.

In January of 2014, Oklahoma Federal Judge Terence C. Kern struck down the Oklahoma state constitutional amendment, which provided that marriage in Oklahoma consisted only of the union of one man and one woman. 2014 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 934. On Feb. 12, 2014, Judge John G. Heyburn of the Western District of Kentucky found unconstitutional Section 233A of the Kentucky Constitution and similar Kentucky legislation codified at KRS §§ 402.040. He concluded that Kentucky's denial of recognition for valid same-sex marriages violated the United States Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law, even under the most deferential standard of review. In reaching that holding, Judge Heyburn noted that judicial thinking on this issue had evolved slowly because courts usually answer only the questions that come before them. He concluded by stating that each of these small steps has led to this place and this time, where the right of same-sex spouses to the state-conferred benefits of marriage is virtually compelled.

Two days after the Kentucky ruling, Virginia Federal Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen enjoined the Commonwealth from enforcing Sections 20-45.2 and 20-45.3 of the Virginia Code and Article I, Section 15-A of the Virginia Constitution to the extent these laws prohibit a person from marrying another person of the same gender. 2014 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 932. Judge Allen held that Virginia's marriage laws unconstitutionally deny Virginia's gay and *** citizens the fundamental freedom to choose to marry. Additionally, Judge Allen determined that government interests in perpetuating traditions, shielding state matters from federal interference, and favoring one model of parenting over others had to yield to the country's cherished protections that ensure the exercise of the private choices of the individual citizen regarding love and family. The court stayed execution of the injunction pending the final disposition of any appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Appeals are either pending, or anticipated to be filed, in all of these cases.


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