A federal judge on Tuesday ruled the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples across the country does not apply to Puerto Rico because it is not a state.
U.S. District Court Judge Juan Pérez-Giménez in his 10-page ruling wrote that “notwithstanding the intense political, judicial and academic debate the island’s territorial status has generated over the years, the fact is that, to date, Puerto Rico remains an unincorporated territory.” He further concluded the U.S. commonwealth “is not treated as the functional equivalent of a state for the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
The Supreme Court in the Obergefell ruling said state same-sex marriage bans violate the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
Decision ‘incongruent’ with constitutional principles
Lambda Legal and the Puerto Rican government petitioned Pérez-Giménez to stop enforcement of the island’s same-sex marriage ban.
“The fundamental right to marriage applies across the United States, in states and territories alike,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan of Lambda Legal in a statement his organization released after Pérez-Giménez issued his decision. “This aberrant and fundamentally flawed decision is out of step with the times and incongruent with the constitutional principles applicable to all persons in the United States, whether they live in a state or territory or whether they are straight or gay.”
Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a Puerto Rican LGBT advocacy group, also condemned Pérez-Giménez’s decision.
“It is disappointing to see a judge play with the lives and the wellbeing of families headed by LGBT couples,” said Serrano in his own statement.
Pérez-Giménez in 2014 dismissed a lawsuit against Puerto Rico’s same-sex marriage ban that five same-sex couples, Lambda Legal and Puerto Rico Para Tod@s brought.
Gov. Alejandro García Padilla’s administration subsequently announced it would no longer defend the island’s same-sex marriage ban. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston ruled shortly after the Supreme Court issued its decision in the Obergefell case that Puerto Rico’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.
Lambda Legal on Tuesday said it plans to appeal Pérez-Giménez’s latest ruling.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has unequivocally stated that the constitutional promises of liberty and equality apply with equal force to residents of Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit was clear when it stated that Puerto Rico’s marriage ban was unconstitutional,” said Gonzalez-Pagan. “The fundamental right of LGBT people to marry in Puerto Rico is not in question.”
Serrano in his statement stressed that same-sex marriages performed in Puerto Rico “are and will remain valid.”
“Both (the 1st Circuit in) Boston and the Supreme Court have determined that marriage equality is the law in Puerto Rico and the U.S.,” he said. “No judge is going to overrule these decisions.”
Puerto Rico Justice Minister César Miranda on Wednesday in a statement said Pérez-Giménez’s ruling “does not alter the validity of marriages into which same-sex couples have entered in Puerto Rico.”