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Supreme Court: Gay marriage bans are unconstitutional

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Supreme Court: Gay marriage bans are unconstitutional

  • Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune

Handing gay rights advocates a monumental victory, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday ruled that marriages between couples of the same sex are constitutional, a decision that overrides Texas’ long-standing ban on gay marriage.

In a 5-4 ruling, the high court found that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry and that states must license a marriage between two people of the same sex. Though the Supreme Court ruled specifically on four gay marriage cases out of a Cincinnati-based federal appeals court, its decision was believed to legalize gay marriage nationwide.

Read the full ruling

Texas’ ban, which had been on the books for a decade, defined marriage in the state Constitution as “solely the union of one man and one woman.” A legal challenge to Texas’ constitutional ban was making its way through the courts.

Two same-sex couples had sued Texas over its gay marriage ban, arguing that it did not grant them equal protection as intended by the 14th Amendment. Attorneys for the state of Texas defended the ban, saying it met equal protection laws and that the courts should not undermine a state’s sovereignty to impose such restrictions. 

The Texas case was among dozens of challenges to state same-sex marriage bans that cropped up and barreled through the judicial system after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.

The Texas case was among the last to be heard at the appellate level, and it was left pending before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals at the time the Supreme Court ruled on the issue.

Texas’ gay marriage ban was believed to be on precarious legal ground as appellate courts across the country made gay marriage legal in almost three-quarters of U.S. states. The Texas ban was also dealt a blow last year when U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia of San Antonio found the state’s ban was unconstitutional because it “violates plaintiffs’ equal protection and due process rights.”

Anticipating an appeal, Garcia stayed his ruling, leaving the ban in place while the state appealed the case to the 5th Circuit.

In a January hearing, a three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based appellate court signaled significant doubt about the constitutionality of Texas’ gay marriage ban, questioning a state attorney's argument that marriage is a “subsidy” the state has the right to grant and withhold.

Days later, the Supreme Court announced it would hear four gay marriage cases out of the 6th Circuit, which last year ruled in favor of same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

Lawyers for Texas and the gay couples suing the state had hoped the appellate court would rule in the Texas case before the high court ruled.

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