By Chris Tomlinson, AP
AUSTIN, Texas–A federal judge declared a same-sex marriage ban in deeply conservative Texas unconstitutional, prompting celebrations by gay marriage advocates over what could be their biggest victory yet in the U.S.
Wednesday’s ruling will allow the second-most populous state to continue enforcing the ban pending an appeal that likely will go to the U.S. Supreme Court. It follows similar recent decisions in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia.
Proponents of same-sex marriage have been emboldened by last year’s landmark Supreme Court ruling that said legally married gay couples could not be denied federal benefits. Lawsuits challenging same-sex marriage bans have been filed in dozens of states.
In Texas, U.S. Judge Orlando Garcia issued a preliminary injunction after two gay couples challenged a Texas constitutional amendment and a longstanding law.
“Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution,” Garcia wrote. “These Texas laws deny plaintiffs access to the institution of marriage and its numerous rights, privileges, and responsibilities for the sole reason that Plaintiffs wish to be married to a person of the same sex.”
Garcia said the couples are likely to win their case and the ban should be lifted, but said he would not enforce his ruling pending one by a federal court of appeals, which already is hearing two other states’ cases. He also will give Texas time to appeal to a federal appeals court.
Todd Staples, a candidate for lieutenant governor who drafted the Texas constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, denounced the court’s decision.
“I am disappointed that judicial activism is once again trying to trump the will of the people. This ruling is the poster child of the culture war occurring in America today,” he said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry in a statement said: “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.”
At least 17 states, mostly in the Northeast, and the Washington capital district now allow marriage of same-sex couples.