In February, U.S. Federal Judge Orlando Garcia ruled that Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, a major step forward for marriage equality in Texas. However, at the time he also issued an immediate stay of his order while the case was being appealed, meaning that couples were unable to start getting married when the injunction was issued.
This week, same-sex couples in Texas took steps to change that. Yesterday, plaintiffs filed a motion with Judge Garcia asking him to lift the stay on his decision. If the motion succeeds, gay couples in the Lone Star State would gain the right to marry immediately.
One major reason Garcia had placed the stay on his ruling was because at the time, the Supreme Court had recently issued a similar stay in Utah, preventing same-sex couples from getting married even after the court had ruled they had the right. The Utah stay has since been lifted.
In addition, several more states have gained marriage equality rights since the February decision. In October, the Supreme Court declined to review marriage equality cases from five states, which effectively legalized gay marriage in those states. Another five states have overturned bans on same-sex marriage, bringing the total number of states where gay marriage is legal to 35.
Advocates for LGBT Texans want Texas to be added to that list. As Neel Lane, an attorney for the Texas couples challenging the gay marriage ban, told the Houston Chronicle, “Thanks to the Supreme Court, two-thirds of U.S. citizens now have the constitutional right to marry the person they love, regardless of gender. …Our fellow Texans are entitled to enjoy the same right. Not some day in the future, but right now, today.”
State officials like Attorney General Greg Abbott who wish to uphold the ban have about a week to file opposition to the plaintiffs’ petition. The judge has no deadline by which to respond, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will be hearing Texas’ case in January.
Marriage equality is already making huge strides in Texas. Democrats in the Legislature have filed legislation to repeal the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, and a plurality of Texans support the freedom to marry. Nonetheless, the state’s extreme conservative elected officials are holding out as long as they can on progress, fighting tooth and nail to preserve a discriminatory law.
It remains to be seen how Judge Garcia will respond to the petition, but Texas now has the possibility of a holiday season filled with extra joy as thousands of couples may possibly have the opportunity to marry who they love.