In a hearing held recently, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia heard arguments from lawyers in San Antonio requesting him to overturn the Texas ban on gay marriage, as reported in My San Antonio Online. Garcia didn’t issue a decision after the ruling, so both supporters of the ban and those who advocate that it violates the 14th Amendment to the Constitution will have to wait to hear what happens in the state.
Garcia astutely pointed out during the hearing that, “no matter how I decide this, this matter is going to be appealed,” as has been the case in Utah and Oklahoma. Their states’ bans on marriage were overturned by a federal judge, and then the decision was appealed. While opponents of same sex marriage in Texas are eager to fling value-based arguments into the courtroom, it was the burden of the lawyers in San Antonio representing the plaintiffs that the same-sex couples have been harmed by the ban. Garcia reminded the courtroom, filled with both advocates and opponents, that the decision will be made by the U.S. Supreme Court, saying, “Ultimately, a group of five people will decide this. I am not one of those five.”
The lawsuit filed by plaintiffs consisting of two same-sex couples is one of more than 40 cases challenging same-sex marriage bans in over 20 individual states. The latest battleground was in Kentucky, where a district judge ruled that the state must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Even though it wouldn’t directly allow same-sex marriage in Kentucky, it would give married couples full rights under the law regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.
The lawyers in San Antonio standing before Judge Garcia were divided. Not only the plaintiffs’ attorneys, but Assistant Texas Solicitor General Michael Murphy was present to defend the ban on behalf of Texas Attorney Genreal Greg Abbot. Murphy referenced the 2005 referendum in which 76 percent of Texas voters approved the ban on same-sex marriage, and insisted that the Supreme Court has set a precedent for states’ rights to define marriage within their borders. Murphy also stated that the ban doesn’t violate individuals’ right to marry, explaining that Texas doesn’t “bar such unions as long as they’re outside of the state.”
Texas history has given the U.S. more than a few examples of the way in which it emphasizes its prerogative to enact and enforce its own statutes, and again here we see an issue that many believe is clearly an issue of states’ rights. But will the lawyers in San Antonio arguing before Judge Garcia convince him one way or another? Advocates of same-sex marriage appeal to the public (and legal) sense of equality and justice, while opponents make arguments that invoke the concept of family values and tradition. Which side will convince Garcia—or has he already made up his mind?
Even though an appeal will be issued regardless of his decision, the frequency and force with which these suits are appearing across the states—united or disparate—is something in and of itself.