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Judge rules gay marriage ban unconstitutional

Published: Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 22:02

The Texas ban on marriage for same-sex couples was declared unconstitutional at the national level Wednesday by a federal judge but remains in effect pending a ruling by an appeals court.

In a 48-page opinion, Judge Orlando L. Garcia of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio wrote that the amendment made in 2005 to the Texas Constitution banning same-sex marriage, along with similar ones made in 2003 and 1997, degraded gay couples for no legally-founded reason.

The opinion states that the ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause under the 14th Amendment and issued a preliminary injunction after two gay couples filed for marriage recognition.

Garcia wrote that there is no legitimate governmental purpose in the state’s ban of same-sex marriages and that there is no room for inequality in this nation under the U.S. Constitution.

Since this decision is pending ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, Garcia’s ruling will have no immediate repercussions until further rulings are made.

Texas A&M law professor Mary Margaret Penrose said she prefers to see legislation at the state level on this issue and that part of what Garcia’s opinion did is define the constitutional right to marry in a way that will make it very difficult for Texas to legislate in this particular area.

Penrose said Garcia ruled on three different issues.

“One’s this fundamental right to marry that basically says ‘Texas, unless you can demonstrate a really important reason to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying, then you are going to have to allow them that right because under the U.S. Constitution, individuals have a fundamental right to marry,’” Penrose said.

The second issue, Penrose said, was that if we treat one group different than another group, we have to have an undeniably valid reason for doing that.

In this case, the Texas court previously argued the only valid reason for marriage “is for child rearing” and “for procreation,” but Penrose said Texas still allows inmates on death row and infertile persons to get married even though they seemingly cannot fulfill these requirements.

Penrose also said gay couples are having their own children and rearing adopted children, making them a group that is being treated differently without what appears to be valid legal reason.

Garcia said Texas has always recognized marriage as legal according to the state the ceremony took place, but is not recognizing same-sex marriages that occur in the 17 states that legally wed gay couples.

“That is not what they have been doing with same-sex marriages, and in this case Judge Garcia looked at it and said ‘No, that’s unconstitutional, that’s a violation of due process,” Penrose said. “You are treating this one type of marriage special and different, and that is what violates the U.S. Constitution.’”

Jeremy Saenz, counseling psychology graduate student and president of the LGBTQA graduate group, said his initial reaction to the news was pleasant surprise.

Rather than taking a moral stand, Saenz said he thinks Garcia acted on his concept of the law.

“I don’t know of his opinion of the LGBT community is against or for,” Saenz said. “I don’t know his standpoint on the issue. However I felt that he was looking at the law and saw that it wasn’t fair, that the law was discriminating against a group of people.”

Megan Dawson, former vice president of LGBTQ Aggies, said as a member of the LGBT community she believes that whatever Garcia’s views may be, this ruling is a step toward marriage equality for Texas.

“I think it’s really cool that Texas has come such a long way,” Dawson said. “From all my friends and our perspective we’re super surprised honestly. Everyone always said Texas would be the last state and it’s kind of amazing that we are not first but not last either to look at these rights.”

Dawson said she thinks this effort for marriage equality reflects the nation’s mindset.

“I think it will be a slap in the face for those saying that marriage equality shouldn’t be a thing at all,” Dawson said. “I think everyone is going to look at this and say, ‘If Texas is doing this — like, Texas — come on.’”

Brett Soderdahl, sophomore biomedical engineering major, said coming from a Christian faith-based opinion he believes in more traditional marriage and believes Garcia has misinterpreted what the Founding Fathers wanted from the Constitution.

“Although I do see the separation of church and state, I do see that America was founded on Christian values and that Christian values have more of a focus on traditional marriage,” Soderdahl said. “I’m not saying anything against gay marriage but I do support traditional [marriage], and for the judge to just come out and explicitly say, ‘That is against the Constitution,’ I think he’s kind of going against what the Founding Fathers wanted with the country.”


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