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Same Sex Marriage Denied in Puerto Rico

A federal district court judge in Puerto Rico has ruled against same sex marriage in the U.S. territory, diverging from the national trend in the federal judiciary of permitting such marriages.

Puerto Rico passed a law banning same-sex marriages in 1930.  Earlier this year, Lambda Legal and Puerto Rico Para Todos brought suit on behalf of five same-sex couples (Conde-Vidal v. Garcia-Padilla), challenging the law.  On Tuesday, United States District Judge Juan Perez-Gimenez dismissed the challenge, allowing the 1930 law to stand.  In a press release, Lambda Legal called the decision “aberrant,” and indicated its plans to appeal the decision.

“Because no right to same-gender marriage emanates from the Constitution, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico should not be compelled to recognize such unions,” wrote Judge Perez-Gimenez, who was appointed to the bench by President Carter in 1979. “Puerto Rico, acting through its legislature, remains free to shape its own marriage policy.”  Perez-Gimenez further ruled that the people of a jurisdiction through their elected representatives should decide the issue rather than judges.

Judge Perez-Gimenez also referenced Baker v. Nelson, a 1972 Supreme Court decision, which stated that “The institution of marriage as a union of man and woman, uniquely involving the procreation and rearing of children within a family, is as old as the book of Genesis.”

“Traditional marriage is the fundamental unit of the political order,” Judge Perez-Gimenez wrote. “And ultimately the very survival of the political order depends upon the procreative potential embodied in traditional marriage.”

The ruling represents a departure from the holdings of related federal cases.   In 2012, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico, ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – a Federal law defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman – is unconstitutional.  On October 7th, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the discriminatory marriage bans for same-sex couples in Nevada and Idaho.  The previous day, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed marriage case decisions from the Seventh Circuit, Fourth Circuit and Tenth Circuit Courts of Appeal to stand, meaning that same-sex couples in states covered by these circuits would be able to marry.

Puerto Rico is often considered to be one of the more socially conservative areas in the United States.  Defense of Marriage acts were proposed in Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly in 2008 (during which the bill took on the common name Resolución 99) and in 2009, although neither passed.

Seven States ban same sex marriages: Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.



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