In a strongly worded opinion, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (covering Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico and Rhode Island) confirmed last week that same-sex marriage is legal in Puerto Rico. In doing so, the court struck down the opinion of U.S. District Court Judge Juan Pérez-Giménez, who recently held that a Supreme Court decision making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states did not apply to Puerto Rico.
In 2014, A federal district court judge in Puerto Rico ruled against same sex marriage in the U.S. territory, diverging from the national trend in the federal judiciary of permitting such marriages.
While that case was on appeal to the First Circuit, the United States Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S.Ct. 2584 (2015). In the wake of that decision, all parties to the Puerto Rico case agreed that the U.S. territory’s ban on same sex marriage was unconstitutional. The First Circuit agreed, vacated the judgment, and remanded. On remand, the district court nevertheless denied the parties’ joint request in favor of the parties seeking same-sex marriage. Instead, the court concluded that Puerto Rico’s ban was not unconstitutional because the “right to same-sex marriage” has not been determined to apply in Puerto Rico.
The First Circuit overturned the ruling, saying that Puerto Rico, like the 50 states, must accept the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriages. In doing so, the court did not mince words:
“The district court’s ruling errs in so many respects that it is hard to know where to begin. The constitutional rights at issue here are the rights to due process and equal protection, as protected by both the Fourteenth and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Those rights have already been incorporated as to Puerto Rico. And even if they had not, then the district court would have been able to decide whether they should be.”
The 1st Circuit specifiedthat upon the case’s return to the Federal District Court in Puerto Rico, a different judge should enter judgment in favor of the couples seeking same-sex marriage, and the court should do so “promptly.”