Texas Makes Advances Toward Marriage Equality, But Future Remains Unclear.
It's been a banner week for LGBT rights here in Texas — even as the future of these civil rights remain unclear with the U.S. Supreme Court still yet to weigh in on the issue of gay marriage.
In the meantime, here's a catch-up on all you need to know about everything that's gone down across the state these past few days:
• On February 12, a move to offer survivor benefits to same-sex couples was proposed for the Dallas Police and Fire Pension Board. The board rejected the idea for now, saying it wanted to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court reaches a decision regarding same-sex marriage.
• On Tuesday, February 17, Travis County Judge Guy Herman ruled Texas' ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional in something of a stunner.
• On Wednesday, February 18, the Dallas City Council decided to extend spousal benefits to same-sex partners, including common-law spouses, for the city's employee retirement fund.
• Although Texas courts did not issue same-sex marriage licenses following Herman's ruling, an exception was made for Suzanne Bryant and Sarah Goodfriend on February 19. Already, though, Attorney General Ken Paxton says the marriage is void, and the Texas Supreme Court issued an order forbidding Texas judges to permit any other same-sex marriages. Even so: Chuck Herring, lawyer for the couple, told Austin-American Statesman that in, their eyes, Paxton's claim that the marriage license is invalid has “no practical meaning.”
Again, we really won't know for sure how the issue of same-sex marriage will be handled in Texas and other states until the U.S. Supreme Court makes a decision. But just so you understand why the matter is now in the U.S. Supreme Court's hands, here's some background: Back in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in United States v. Windsor. The court ruled to recognize same-sex marriages and civil unions and to extend the same benefits heterosexual married persons receive to same-sex partners in matters of federal law. However, the case did not challenge Section 2 of DOMA, which permits individual states to not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. As a result, the issue has not been resolved in many states.
Despite the fact that that several appellate courts have overturned same-sex marriage bans in multiple states, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld bans in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee.
While the same-sex marriage ban in Texas was also ruled as unconstitutional by United States District Judge Orlando Garcia in February of last year, Garcia then placed a stay on his ruling, anticipating appeals, so the ban was not overturned.
Although appeals for Garcia's ruling began January 9, 2015, in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, due to the 6th Circuit's decision (as well as already-conflicting decisions by other courts of appeals) the Supreme Court decided, on January 16, 2015, to take over the case. The court is likely to issue its ruling this summer.
That said, it doesn't look like any of the uncertainty surrounding the issue of same-sex marriage will be cleared for a few more months at the earliest.
At the moment, though, things at least appear to be headed the right direction.