U.S. District Court Judge Juan Pérez-Giménez last month ruled the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Obergefell case that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples across the country does not apply to Puerto Rico because it is not a state. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston wrote in its 5-page decision that Pérez-Giménez’s “ruling errs in so many respects that it is hard to know where to begin.”
The 1st Circuit said Pérez-Giménez’s decision “directly contradicted” its July 2015 ruling that concluded Puerto Rico’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.
“In ruling that the ban is not unconstitutional because the applicable constitutional right does not apply to Puerto Rico, the district court both misconstrued that right and directly contradicted our mandate,” reads the 1st Circuit ruling. “And it compounded its error (and signaled a lack of confidence in its actions,) by failing to enter a final judgment to enable an appeal in ordinary course.”
Lambda Legal: 1st Circuit ruling ‘unequivocal and unsurprising’
Ada Conde Vidal and Ivonne Álvarez Vélez filed a lawsuit against Puerto Rico’s same-sex marriage ban in U.S. District Court in March 2014. Four other gay and lesbian couples; Lambda Legal and Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a Puerto Rican LGBT advocacy group, joined the case a few months later.
Pérez-Giménez in 2014 dismissed the lawsuit.
Conde and Álvarez, the four other plaintiff couples, Lambda Legal and Puerto Rico Para Tod@s appealed Pérez-Giménez’s ruling to the 1st Circuit. Gov. Alejandro García Padilla’s administration last year announced it would no longer defend Puerto Rico’s same-sex marriage ban.
The 1st Circuit on Thursday ordered that the lower court must assign the case to a different judge.
“The First Circuit’s ruling is both unequivocal and unsurprising,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a staff attorney for Lambda Legal, in a press release. “There is no question that the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges applies to Puerto Rico just as equally as it does across the rest of the United States.”
Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, also welcomed the 1st Circuit’s ruling.
“The abuse of a judge who sought to usurp the right of LGBT people to marry in their homeland that they acquired is over,” said Serrano in a statement he posted to his website. “The Supreme Court of the United States was clear, the (1st Circuit) Court of Appeals in Boston was clear, the governor was clear in implementing the courts’ orders. Marriage equality came to Puerto Rico to stay.”
The 1st Circuit announced its ruling on the same day that Colombia’s highest court issued a landmark decision in support of marriage rights to same-sex couples.
“Celebrating marriage equality in Colombia and the reaffirmation of this right in Puerto Rico,” wrote Serrano on his Twitter page.
— Pedro Julio Serrano (@PedroJulio) April 7, 2016