Three Same-sex Marriage Cases in Front of Judges on the Same Day
On January 9, Fifth Circuit judges will not only hear the Texas marriage equality case, but cases from Mississippi and Louisiana as well. In the last year or so, federal appeals courts across the nation have upheld and struck down state bans, creating what's known in the judicial world as "conflict between the circuits" and increasing the likelihood that the Supreme Court will take up a case to resolve the issue.
Paul Castillo, staff attorney with Lambda Legal's Dallas office, said it's tough to speculate how and if the other circuit court decisions and SCOTUS will play a role in the Fifth's ruling. Coincidentally, SCOTUS will also decide on January 9 whether to hear pending petitions from other courts. "The Fifth Circuit understands the impact and the decisions that have been released across the country on this issue, and they no doubt are aware that there are current petitions at the Supreme Court," Castillo said.
In February 2014, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia found the state's ban violates LGBT couples' due-process rights under the 14th Amendment. He issued an injunction to prevent the law from taking effect, but he placed a legal hold on that injunction pending appeal.
Ahead of the January 9 hearing, Texas plaintiffs Nicole Dimetman and Cleopatra De Leon and Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes asked Garcia to lift the hold, which would have allowed county courts to begin issuing marriage licenses to LGBT couples. Garcia rejected their request, anticipating that the Fifth Circuit, just as it did a week prior in Mississippi, would reinstate the hold ahead of the hearing, causing "confusion and doubt."
"The day for finality and legal certainty in the long and difficult journey for equality is closer than ever before," Garcia wrote.
For the tens of thousands of same-sex couples across Texas, the day the state legally recognizes their relationships and families can't come soon enough. Dimetman and De Leon, who were legally married in the state of Massachusetts, are expecting their second child in March, and Dimetman told the Current that she hopes a decision–whether from the appeals court or ultimately the Supreme Court–will happen before the birth.
"While these discriminatory laws continue, thousands of same-sex families across the state continue to go without dozens of protections that other families take for granted," she wrote in response to questions from the Current. "As we anticipate the birth of our second child, Cleo and I face the terrible uncertainty that if something goes wrong in the delivery room, our daughter could be orphaned and Cleo would have no right to direct her care. No family should face that."
Phariss and Holmes, who live in Plano, say they've been waiting on "pins and needles."
"Same-sex marriage equality would not have prevailed in as many federal district courts and appeals courts if we didn't have the better argument," Holmes said. "Until we finally hear the words from Fifth Circuit that we have the same rights as everyone else, we can't take it for granted."