February 26, 2014 at 2:59 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
BREAKING: Judge strikes down Texas marriage ban
government, Ted Cruz, Texas, Republican Party, United States Senate, Values Voters Summit, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has introduced the State Marriage Defense Act. (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

A federal judge on Wednesday ruled Texas’ constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia said in response to a lawsuit filed by two same-sex couples the state’s gay marriage ban violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. He stayed his ruling pending an appeal.

“After careful consideration, and applying the law as it must, this court holds that Texas’ prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process,” wrote Garcia. “Texas’ current marriage laws deny homosexual couples the right to marry, and in doing so, demean their dignity for no legitimate reason.”

“Today’s ruling by Judge Garcia is a huge victory that moves Texas one step closer to the freedom to marry,” said Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin also applauded Garcia’s ruling.

“This injunction sends a powerful message that gay and lesbian Texans are being harmed every by inequality,” he said.

Gov. Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott, Bexar County Clerk Gerard Rickhoff and Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner David Lakey are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

“Texans spoke loud and clear by overwhelmingly voting to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in our Constitution, and it is not the role of the federal government to overturn the will of our citizens,” said Perry in a statement. “The 10th Amendment guarantees Texas voters the freedom to make these decisions, and this is yet another attempt to achieve via the courts what couldn’t be achieved at the ballot box. We will continue to fight for the rights of Texans to self-determine the laws of our state.”

Abbott announced he will appeal Garcia’s decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Garcia’s ruling comes a day after attorneys for three gay couples challenging Utah’s same-sex marriage ban urged the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to uphold a lower court’s ruling that struck down the state’s gay nuptials prohibition. U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen’s Feb. 13 ruling that struck down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban was appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., earlier this week.

Eighteen states and D.C. have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Gays and lesbians in Pennsylvania, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Missouri and other states have filed lawsuits seeking marriage rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last June that found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

A federal judge on Feb. 12 ruled Kentucky must recognize gay nuptials legally performed in other jurisdictions.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman last week said same-sex couples in Illinois’ Cook County, where Chicago is located, could immediately begin to marry even though the state’s same-sex marriage law does not take effect until June. Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten earlier on Wednesday announced he will also issue marriage licenses to gays and lesbians.

Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday told state attorneys general during the National Association of Attorneys General’s winter meeting in D.C. that they do not have to defend state same-sex marriage bans in court.

He announced earlier this month the Justice Department will recognize same-sex marriages in civil and criminal cases and extend full benefits to gay spouses of public safety personnel. The new policy applies to states that have yet to extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians.

“I believe we must be suspicious of legal classifications based solely on sexual orientation,” said Holder during his speech at the National Association of Attorneys General. “And we must endeavor – in all of our efforts – to uphold and advance the values that once led our forebears to declare unequivocally that all are created equal and entitled to equal opportunity.”

The Washington Blade will provide further updates as they become available.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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