PUERTO RICO: Federal District Court Tosses Out Same-Sex Marriage Lawsuit

Saying that the Puerto Rico marriage equality lawsuit before them “fails to present a substantial federal question,” a US District Court today issued a dismissal based on the 1972 Minnesota Supreme Court case Baker V Nelson, which the US Supreme Court rejected that year on the same grounds. The suit was filed by Lambda Legal on behalf of three couples married in other states, two couples seeking to marry in Puerto Rico, and the LGBT rights group Puerto Rico Para Todos. From the ruling:

The plaintiffs have brought this challenge alleging a violation of the federal constitution, so the first place to begin is with the text of the Constitution. The text of the Constitution, however, does not directly guarantee a right to same-gender marriage, for “when the Constitution was adopted the common understanding was that the domestic relations of husband and wife and parent and child were matters reserved to the States.” Without the direct guidance of the Constitution, the next source of authority is relevant Supreme Court precedent interpreting the Constitution. On the question of same-gender marriage, the Supreme Court has issued a decision that directly binds this Court.

The petitioners in Baker v. Nelson were two men who had been denied a license to marry each other. They argued that Minnesota’s statutory definition of marriage as an opposite-gender relationship violated due process and equal protection – just as the plaintiffs argue here. The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected the petitioners’ claim, determining that the right to marry without regard to gender was not a fundamental right and that it was neither irrational nor invidious discrimination to define marriage as requiring an opposite-gender union. [snip]

Baker, which necessarily decided that a state law defining marriage as a union between a man and woman does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment, remains good law. Because no right to same-gender marriage emanates from the Constitution, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico should not be compelled to recognize such unions. Instead, Puerto Rico, acting through its legislature, remains free to shape its own marriage policy. In a system of limited constitutional self-government such as ours, this is the prudent outcome. The people and their elected representatives should debate the wisdom of redefining marriage. Judges should not.

You can expect the final lines excerpted above to appear in a lot of hate group press releases. Dig further into today’s ruling at Equality Case Files.