Puerto Rico Will No Longer Enforce Its Same-Sex Marriage Ban

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on March 26, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Back in October, a federal judge in Puerto Rico bucked the same-sex marriage trend by declaring that the island wouldn't be going the way of almost every other court in holding same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional.

Last Friday, though, Judge Perez-Gimenez's decision became a lot less relevant. Puerto Rico announced that it would no longer enforce its same-sex marriage ban.

'Neither Fair Nor Correct'

Even though the same-sex marriage case is on appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, Puerto Rico's justice secretary, Cesar Miranda, said the government would no longer defend the law, calling its defense "neither fair nor correct."

Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla said that he personally was opposed to same-sex marriage, but nevertheless supported Miranda's decision. "Everyone knows my religious beliefs, but it's not up to political leaders to impose our creeds," he said.

If the government refuses to continue with the appeal, then it may be up to the law's proponents to defend it at the First Circuit, as was the case with California's Proposition 8 after the state attorney general refused to litigate the law at the Ninth Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court. That will present a problem in federal court: In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the law's proponents lacked standing even though the state attorney general declined to get involved past the district court stage.

If Puerto Rico's justice secretary won't enforce the law, then it appears no one else can, either. That doesn't please people like Maria Milagros Charbonier, a legislator, who said the move was "a slap in the face to Puerto Rican society." It's fairly astonishing, in a conservative place like Puerto Rico, for the state to drop its same-sex marriage ban.

Domino Effect

With Puerto Rico, that makes 37 states, plus Washington D.C., that no longer discriminate against same-sex couples in marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in April on a case from the Sixth Circuit, the only federal circuit court of appeals so far to rule against same-sex marriage. There's also an active case in the Fifth Circuit following a decision of a federal court in Texas to strike Texas' same-sex marriage prohibition. The Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments in that case in January, but it's not probable the court will wait for the U.S. Supreme Court before issuing a decision.

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