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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 24 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 43
No right to marriage, Puerto Rican judge says - Lambda Legal to appeal
Section One
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No right to marriage, Puerto Rican judge says - Lambda Legal to appeal

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Lambda Legal said it will appeal the ruling of a federal judge in Puerto Rico that the commonwealth's ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional.

On October 21, U.S. District Judge Juan Pérez-Giménez dismissed a suit challenging Puerto Rico's ban on Gay and Lesbian marriages 'for want of a substantial federal question.'

Perez-Gimenez was merely repeating language the U.S. Supreme Court used in the 1972 Baker v. Nelson case, in which it also dismissed a suit challenging Minnesota's ban on same-sex marriage. The high court's reasoning at that time was that regulating marriage is a matter for state and not federal law.

'Baker, which necessarily decided that a state law defining marriage as a union between a man and woman does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment, remains good law,' Perez-Gimenez wrote in his opinion.

'Because no right to same-gender marriage emanates from the Constitution, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico should not be compelled to recognize such unions. Instead, Puerto Rico, acting through its legislature, remains free to shape its own marriage policy. In a system of limited constitutional self-government such as ours, this is the prudent outcome. The people and their elected representatives should debate the wisdom of redefining marriage. Judges should not.'

Legal scholars have questioned how binding Baker actually is, and many believe that in any case the Supreme Court tacitly reversed Baker with its decision striking down DOMA in USA v. Windsor.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in Windsor, concluded that DOMA violated Fifth Amendment rights to equal protection and due process. Subsequent court decisions have found that state laws against same-sex marriage are unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Lambda Legal, which is representing some of the plaintiffs in the case, said it would appeal Perez-Gimenez's decision to the First Circuit Court. Lambda's appeal will be the first and only marriage case the First Circuit hears, because every state in that court jurisdiction has already legalized same-sex marriage.

'The court's ruling directly conflicts with the wave of recent decisions finding these marriage bans unconstitutional and perpetuates the discrimination and harm done to same-sex Puerto Rican couples and their families,' said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal.

'It defies the unmistakable import of the Windsor decision and flies in the face of the blizzard of rulings of the last year, the reasoned rulings of the Courts of Appeals for the 4th, 7th, 9th and 10th Circuits, and the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to let stand the rulings striking down five bans similar to Puerto Rico's. One struggles to understand how this judge came to a different conclusion.'

Puerto Rico is an internally self-governing commonwealth of the United States, so while its legislature has the right to pass laws, they must conform to the U.S. Constitution.

In the case dismissed by Judge Perez-Gimenez, a Lesbian couple, Ada Mercedes Conde Vidal and Ivonne Álvarez Vélez, filed a lawsuit to compel Puerto Rico to recognize their Massachusetts marriage.

They filed suit in March, and in June, Lambda Legal joined and amended the original lawsuit to include four more plaintiff couples, two seeking recognition of marriages entered into in other jurisdictions and two who seek to marry in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a local LGBT rights organization, also joined the lawsuit at that time.

'It is outrageous that loving committed LGBT couples and their families have been deprived of their civil rights and dignity,' said Pedro Julio Serrano, founder and president of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s.

'We are hopeful that justice will prevail and that the equality promised by the Constitution will be upheld.'

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