US & Canada

US judge declares Texas gay marriage ban unconstitutional

Cleopatra De Leon (left) and Nicole Dimetman arrive at the US Federal Courthouse, in San Antonio, 12 February 2014
Image caption Cleopatra De Leon (left) and Nicole Dimetman sued to force Texas to recognise their marriage in another state

A US judge has ruled Texas' ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, the latest in a series of decisions overturning such state laws.

Judge Orlando Garcia ruled in favour of two gay couples who challenged the ban, but will allow the state to continue enforcing it pending an appeal.

Analysts say the ruling makes it increasingly likely the legality of such bans will reach the Supreme Court.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott vowed to appeal against the decision.

"This is an issue on which there are good, well-meaning people on both sides," Mr Abbott, who is a Republican candidate for governor, said in a statement.

"The US Supreme Court has ruled over and over again that states have the authority to define and regulate marriage."

Texas is one of the most conservative states in the US and has banned gay unions in its constitution since 2005 and by statute since 1997.

In his ruling, Judge Garcia of the federal Western District of Texas wrote that by denying same-sex couples the right to marry, the state "[demeans] their dignity for no legitimate reason".

"Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution."

Same-sex marriage is legal in 17 states and Washington DC but banned by constitutional amendment in 29 states. All but eight of those state bans have been challenged in court, according to NBC News.

Similar court decisions in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia have handed victories to gay-rights activists by declaring those bans unconstitutional.

'Judicial activism'

The rulings come after the US Supreme Court ruled in 2013 the federal government must recognise gay unions ratified in states where they are already legal.

America's highest court has put the Utah ruling on hold until an appeals court can consider the issue. Judge Garcia said he would respect that order and allow Texas to continue enforcing the ban.

On Wednesday, one of the couples who challenged the Texas ban said in a statement: "Having been together almost 17 years, we look forward to the day when we can get married and when all gay Texans enjoy equal rights to marry as well."

The second couple, Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman, married in Massachusetts and sued to force Texas to recognise their marriage.

The former Texas legislator who drafted the same-sex marriage ban denounced the ruling as "judicial activism".

"This ruling is the poster child of the culture war occurring in America today," said Todd Staples, the state's agriculture commissioner and a candidate for lieutenant governor in the upcoming election.

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