After several days of hopeful anticipation, it appears that LGBT couples hoping to marry in Texas will once again have their dreams deferred. Here’s the story by Guillermo Contreras of the San Antonio Express-News (via the Houston Chronicle website)…
A San Antonio-based federal judge declined on Friday to allow gay marriages to take place in Texas while the state awaits a ruling from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In February, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garciaruled Texas’ same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, but — knowing his ruling would be appealed — imposed a hold that prevented gays from immediately getting married. The state did appeal, and the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans has scheduled oral arguments for Jan. 9.
In early October, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review same-sex marriage cases from five other states, effectively legalizing gay marriage in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana and Wisconsin. Since then, federal courts in five additional states have overturned their bans, bringing the total number of states with legalized same-sex marriage to 35. It also is legal in Washington, D.C., and St. Louis.
Noting the legal landscape has changed, the two couples who challenged Texas’ ban, Nicole Dimetman andCleopatra De Leon and Mark Phariss and Victor Holmes, requested last month that Garcia lift the stay.
In his latest order, Garcia said he was not persuaded that the actions by the Supreme Court supported lifting his stay. He also denied the state’s claim that he had no jurisdiction in the case anymore.
However, his order shows he appeared on the brink of lifting the stay.
Garcia seemed to anticipate that the 5th Circuit would put the stay back in place in the Texas case if he lifted it. If lifted, he wrote, it would create a rush to courthouses of same-sex couples seeking to get married, only to see themselves in legal limbo should the stay be reimposed by the appeals court.
“Lifting the stay would not bring finality to this Fourteenth Amendment claim,” Garcia wrote. “To the contrary, such action would only be temporary, with confusion and doubt to follow. The day for finality and legal certainty in the long and difficult journey for equality is closer than ever before.”
So in Garcia’s opinion, he wants to avoid the ‘legal limbo’ that would be caused by allowing a brief window for marriage equality in Texas, preferring that couples simply continue to wait until the issue is settled by the Supreme Court.
But many of the couples see things differently, as legal limbo was exactly what they were seeking to create for the state. As laws stand, Texas is currently able to deny LGBT couples because they do not have official state documentation of their marriages, even in the case that they are legally married from another state. Like Katy resident Connie Wilson, who was initially denied access to a Texas Driver License because the state didn’t recognize her California marriage certificate, the Texas government is currently using the fact that couples cannot legally marry in the state as an excuse to discriminate.
However, this sanctioned discrimination becomes much tougher to accomplish when the documentation is from Texas itself. That is why even the small window of time that would allow a few couples to marry could prove critically important once cases do reach the Supreme Court. Lifting the stay would be far from a final solution, but it could serve to strengthen the overall case for marriage equality in Texas. But that is not the direction Judge Garcia has chosen.