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DOMA Struck Down: What’s Next for Same-Sex Couples in Texas?

Tyler Pratt, KUT News

Update: The U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on two same-sex marriage cases today means those unions will now be recognized by the federal government. In separate cases, the court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, and the state of California can now resume efforts to legalize same sex marriage.

But neither of these rulings will directly affect Texas residents. 

“The ruling today was limited in the sense it didn’t extend to strike down defense of marriage acts that exist on state level," says Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas.

Texas’ ownDefense Against Marriage Actwill remain on the books. Gov. Rick Perry signed the law in 2003.  In 2005, the state legislature also passed a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. If that amendment were repealed, it would need two-thirds approval by the state House and Senate. It would then go to voters for final approval. 

Same sex marriage is legal in 12 states and the District of Columbia. 

Still, same sex marriage advocates in Texas celebrated the court's ruling.

This is truly an historic victory and a momentous day for Edie Windsor and for loving, married same-sex couples and their families.," said Rebecca Robertson with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas in a statement. "While the decision doesn’t address the constitutionality of state-law bans on same-sex marriage, like the ones on the books in Texas, it is a tremendous step forward."

Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro held similar sentiments:

“In every part of our daily lives—in marriage like in attending school or in deciding to have children—we must pride ourselves in the guarantee that in America we will be treated equally before the law. That is the principle our country was founded on and what bends the arc of history toward justice. As we celebrate a victory for equality today, we are reminded that there is still a lot of work to ensure we can celebrate equality in America every day. From protecting the right to vote to ensuring that women have the right to make their own health decisions in Texas and across our country, I will continue to stand up for what makes this nation great.

Opponents to same sex marriage expressed their disappointment with the court's decision. 

Todd Staples, the original Texas Senate sponsor of the Texas Marriage Amendment, called the court's decision an absurdity.

"Fortunately, more than 75% of Texans approved the Texas Marriage Amendment at the ballot box in 2005, and it’s now protected in our state constitution. Despite these court decisions, I am thankful that Texas still has the right to define marriage as between one man and one woman. I remain committed to fighting on the front lines for the traditional family values Texans hold dear.”

Original Story (9:33 a.m.): The Supreme Court has found that the federal Defense of Marriage Act denying benefits to same-sex couples is unconstitutional. It has also ruled an appeal of a decision striking down a California law outlawing same-sex marriage did not have standing to be heard – meaning its prohibition is unconstitutional in California.

This spring, the high court heard two cases related to gay marriage. One case, United States v. Windsor, challenged the legitimacy of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Litigants argued that DOMA violates the constitution’s promise of equal protection under the fifth amendment. From the majority opinion:

“DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty.”

Another case was Hollingsworth v. Perry, which focused on California’s voter approved ban on gay marriage. At stake: whether California’s Prop 8 violated the Constitutions “equal protection” clause. The court did not engage the case on its merits. Instead it said:

“The Court does not question California’s sovereign right to maintain an initiative process, or the right of initiative proponents to defend their initiatives in California courts. But standing in federal court is a question of federal law, not state law.”

NPR will be live-blogging reactions and implications of this morning’s decisions. 

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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