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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 11, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 11
No marriage equality in Puerto Rico, rogue judge rules

Governor says he will continue to follow SCOTUS ruling
Section One
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No marriage equality in Puerto Rico, rogue judge rules

Governor says he will continue to follow SCOTUS ruling

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A federal district judge in Puerto Rico ruled on March 8 that the commonwealth's ban on same-sex marriage must remain in effect despite the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

U.S. District Judge Juan Pérez-Giménez said in a 10-page ruling that Obergefell does not apply to what he termed 'unincorporated territories' like Puerto Rico.

'One might be tempted to assume that the constant reference made to the 'States' in Obergefell includes the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico,' Pérez-Giménez wrote in his decision. 'Yet, it is not the role of this court to venture into such an interpretation.'

The judge said that an 'unincorporated territory' like Puerto Rico 'is not treated as the functional equivalent of a State for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment.'

'Under this doctrine,' he continued, 'the Constitution applies in full in incorporated Territories surely destined for statehood but only in part in unincorporated Territories.'

Pérez-Giménez previously ruled in October 2014 that Puerto Rico's ban on Gay and Lesbian marriages was constitutional, and the plaintiffs appealed to the 1st Circuit Court.

Before the 1st Circuit ruled, however, Puerto Rico's Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla announced that he could no longer defend the ban, and he joined the appeal to the 1st Circuit. After Obergefell, the 1st Circuit had no choice but to agree that the ban on same-sex marriage must go.

'We agree with the parties' joint position that the ban is unconstitutional,' the 1st Circuit said.

The governor having joined the plaintiffs, both parties then filed a motion with Pérez-Giménez saying 'in light of Obergefell v. Hodges and the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, the parties hereby jointly move this Court to enter the enclosed proposed judgment in favor of Plaintiffs.'

Pérez-Giménez's March 8 ruling was a response to that motion.

Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, staff attorney for Lambda Legal, which is representing the plaintiffs, called the ruling 'aberrant and fundamentally flawed' and 'incongruent with the constitutional principles applicable to all persons in the United States, whether they live in a state or territory and whether they are straight or gay.'

ACLU attorney Joshua Block said that while there is some legal ambiguity about applying the U.S. Constitution to territories like Puerto Rico, 'the protections accorded by either the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment or the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment apply to residents of Puerto Rico.'

Gov. Garcia said on March 9 that he would continue to abide by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell and treat same-sex marriages as fully legal.

The plaintiffs in the original case are expected to once again appeal Pérez-Giménez's decision to the 1st Circuit.

'We look forward to once again vindicating the rights of LGBT people on the Island and ensuring that loving couples in Puerto Rico have the dignity, fairness, and security under the law that they deserve,' Lambda Legal said in a statement.

'We will not stop fighting until all LGBT people and their families in the United States, including in Puerto Rico, have equal access to the protections of legal marriage. The constitutional mandates are clear: marriages licensed by the Commonwealth between LGBT couples are not in limbo; they are valid.'

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