A federal judge in Texas recently announced that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional under federal law. The ruling does not create legalized gay marriage in the state, but rather invalidates the active ban on same-sex marriages that had been in place since voters approved an amendment to the state constitution in 2005.
Constitutional amendments have been used in several states as a way to protect against legislative action that might go against the will of the voters, since it is harder to remove a constitutional amendment than it is to repeal or override a law. In the case of the ban in Texas, the constitutional amendment reflected the status quo in the state. However, a federal judge found that in light of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, federal constitutional law no longer supports different legal treatment for same-sex couples.
Using a constitutional standard that requires a finding that the state acted in rational relation to protecting a legitimate government purpose, the judge wrote that the amendment was state-imposed inequality not supported by a legitimate government purpose.
This is an interesting case because it deals very precisely with the intersection of conflicting state and federal laws on the issue of same-sex marriage. Family law is typically the province of the state, but state laws must still abide by interpretations of the federal constitution as set forth by the Supreme Court. And, because federal laws control when they conflict with state laws, federal courts have the power to invalidate state laws that violate federal principles.
For now the ruling has been temporarily stayed since appeals are anticipated and the case may find its way to the Supreme Court before it is finally resolved.
Source: NPR, “Federal Judge Voids Texas Gay Marriage Ban,” Bill Chappell, Feb. 26, 2014.