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Supreme Court: Gay Marriage Bans Are Unconstitutional

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.  

Handing gay rights advocates a monumental victory, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday ruled that marriages between couples of the same sex cannot be prohibited by states, a decision that overrides Texas’ long-standing ban on gay marriage. 

In a 5-4 ruling, the high court found that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry and that states must license a marriage between two people of the same sex.  

“Today’s victory will bring joy to tens of thousands of Texans and their families who have the same dreams for marriage as any others,” Chuck Smith, executive director for the gay rights group Equality Texas, said in a statement. “We hope state officials move swiftly to implement the Constitution’s command in the remaining 13 states with marriage discrimination.”  

Though the Supreme Court ruled specifically on four gay marriage cases out of a Cincinnati-based federal appeals court, its decision legalized gay marriage nationwide, dismaying Texas’ Republican leaders. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vowed in a statement to defend the religious liberties of those who believe marriage is between one man and one woman. “No Texan is required by the Supreme Court’s decision to act contrary to his or her religious beliefs regarding marriage,” Abbott said.  

Hours after the Supreme Court ruling, he issued a directive to state agencies: “The government must never pressure a person to abandon or violate his or her sincerely held religious beliefs regarding a topic such as marriage.” He said his directive applies to any agency decision, including granting or denying benefits, entering agency contracts or enforcing state laws and regulations. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Thursday asked county clerks in Texas to hold off on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples until further word from him. On Friday morning, he issued a statement that offered no specifics on that, but suggested that the state’s next fight will be to defend those who oppose same-sex marriage based on their religious views. 

“It is not acceptable that people of faith be exposed to such abuse,” Paxton said.  

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the 14th Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex, and that the U.S. Constitution does not permit states to bar same-sex couples from marriage. 

He wrote that same-sex couples are asking for “equal dignity” in the eyes of the law so they are not excluded “from one of civilization’s oldest institutions,” and that the Constitution grants them that right. 

“It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage,” Kennedy wrote. “Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves.” 

On behalf of the dissenters, Chief Justice John Roberts said the Supreme Court was wrongly intervening in the Democratic process through which state bans were put in place.  

“There will be consequences to shutting down the political process on an issue of such profound public significance,” Roberts wrote. “Closing debate tends to close minds.” 

Roberts added that the same-sex marriage bans did not violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause because marriage is a state issue. He criticized the majority for “unnecessarily resolving constitutional questions.” 

“Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner,” Roberts wrote. “Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.” 

Texas’ ban, which had been on the books for a decade, defined marriage in the state constitution as “solely the union of one man and one woman.” A legal challenge to Texas’ constitutional ban was making its way through the courts. 

Two same-sex couples had sued Texas over its gay marriage ban, arguing that it did not grant them equal protection as intended by the 14th Amendment. Attorneys for the state of Texas defended the ban, saying it met equal protection laws and that the courts should not undermine a state’s sovereignty to impose such restrictions.  

The Texas case was among dozens of challenges to state same-sex marriage bans that cropped up and barreled through the judicial system after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013. 

The Texas case was among the last to be heard at the appellate level, and it was left pending before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals at the time the Supreme Court ruled on the issue. 

Texas’ gay marriage ban was believed to be on precarious legal ground as appellate courts across the country made gay marriage legal in almost three-quarters of U.S. states. The Texas ban was also dealt a blow last year when U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia of San Antonio found the state’s ban was unconstitutional because it “violates plaintiffs’ equal protection and due process rights.” 

Anticipating an appeal, Garcia stayed his ruling, leaving the ban in place while the state appealed the case to the 5th Circuit. In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday, Garcia lifted his stay to allow his ruling striking down the ban to go into effect.  

“The Supreme Court has now made clear that this court was correct, more than 16 months ago, when it held that Texas state law restrictions on same-sex marriage violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” Garcia wrote. 

In a January hearing, a three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based appellate court signaled significant doubt about the constitutionality of Texas’ gay marriage ban, questioning a state attorney’s argument that marriage is a “subsidy” the state has the right to grant and withhold. 

Days later, the Supreme Court announced it would hear four gay marriage cases out of the 6th Circuit, which last year ruled in favor of same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. 

Lawyers for Texas and the gay couples suing the state had hoped the appellate court would rule in the Texas case before the high court ruled. On Friday, the gay couples’ attorney, Neel Lane, said he still expected a decision from the 5th Circuit “but the outcome is now clear.” 

The case will now be a “footnote in history rather than a chapter in history,” Lane said. 

June 26 was already a historic day for gay rights activists. On that same day in 2003, the Supreme Court struck down Texas’ sodomy ban, invalidating it and similar laws across the country. A decade later on the same day, the high court struck down key portions of the Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits if they lived in states that allow same-sex marriage. 

On Friday, the plaintiffs in the Texas case gathered in Austin to celebrate the Supreme Court ruling. “It matters that I love him. It’s not a trivial thing. It’s not something to be brushed aside as if it were nothing,” Vic Holmes, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said before proposing to his longtime partner, Mark Phariss

Though the couple was already planning a November wedding, Phariss accepted.  

For the other plaintiffs, Nicole Dimetman and Cleopatra DeLeon, the high court’s ruling means their 2009 marriage that took place in Massachusetts will now be recognized in Texas.  

“Our kids will never have to grow up feeling like there’s an asterisk next to our marriage certificate,” DeLeon said. “We are married and Texas has to accept that.”  

Ally Mutnick contributed to this report.

[gdlr_icon type=”icon-camera-retro” size=”16px” color=”#999999″]Vic Holmes and Mark Phariss of Plano at an LBJ Library press conference celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage on June 26, 2015. Holmes and Phariss had sued Texas over its same-sex marriage ban. / photo credit: Bob Daemmrich

[gdlr_notification icon=”icon-external-link” type=”color-background” background=”#ffcc20″ color=”#ffffff”]This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2015/06/26/supreme-court-ruling-gay-marriage/[/gdlr_notification]

Alexa Ura covers demographics, voting rights and politics for The Texas Tribune, with a focus on the state's growing Hispanic population. She previously covered health care for the Tribune, where she started as in intern. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2013 with a journalism degree.

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Elections 2020

Key Goal for Texans Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke in Tuesday’s Debate: Make the Next One

If the two candidates don’t show improvement in the polls, they won’t make it to the November debate stage.

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Democratic 2020 presidential candidates former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, U.S. Senator Cory Booker, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke participate in the first U.S. 2020 presidential election Democratic candidates' debate in Miami, Florida on June 26, 2019. Photo credit: REUTERS/Mike Segar

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

The two Democratic presidential candidates from Texas are set to appear Tuesday evening in what threatens to be their last debate, a high-stakes opportunity to propel their campaigns out of the lower tier and prove they deserve their spots onstage.

Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke are among 12 candidates who will take the stage at 7 p.m. at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. Hosted by CNN and The New York Times, it is the fourth debate of the primary, and the last one before qualification requirements go up again, potentially leaving the Texans on the sidelines.

In the short term, though, both Texans are being closely watched for their potential collisions with other candidates Tuesday evening. O’Rourke, the former El Paso congressman, is heading into the debate on the heels of his latest clash with South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, while Castro’s reputation precedes him after he stood out in the first three debates for his unflinching interrogations of some rivals.

“Some folks have thought that I’ve been somewhat assertive on the debate stage,” Castro said late last month at The Texas Tribune Festival in Austin. “I can tell you that whoever’s on the debate stage [in the general election] … Donald Trump is not gonna be nice.”

Still, the debates have proven to be somewhat frustrating experiences for the Texans. Both have had standout moments and enjoyed some fundraising success afterward. But neither has received a discernible boost in the polls as a result.

The latest debate falls on the last day for candidates to report their third-quarter fundraising to the Federal Election Commission. Four days ago, O’Rourke announced he raised $4.5 million over the period, while Castro has not released his numbers yet but offered other fundraising details over the weekend that indicated he took in at least $3.2 million.

Both hauls are improvements over the Texans’ second-quarter fundraising but still far behind many of their competitors, especially those that will share the stage with them Tuesday.

The 12-candidate lineup is the biggest for a single night yet, and opportunities abound for conflict. For O’Rourke, that may mean a direct confrontation with Buttigieg, who he has traded barbs with in a series of media appearances and tweets over recent weeks.

The two tangled anew Monday over O’Rourke’s crusade for a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons. Buttigieg has suggested the idea plays into Republicans’ hands, and O’Rourke has countered that Buttigieg is being too cautious and calculating.

“I get it,” Buttigieg said in a Snapchat interview published Monday morning. “He needs to pick a fight in order to stay relevant, but this is about a difference on policy.”

O’Rourke shot back on Twitter: “[Buttigieg] can say whatever he wants, but guns kill 40,000 people each year. Those people deserve action. I’ll be fighting for them.”

O’Rourke has also faced scrutiny in recent days for saying that religious institutions that oppose gay marriage should lose their tax-exempt status. His campaign later walked back the position, saying O’Rourke was referring to institutions that discriminate, but that did not stop at least two rivals, Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren, from plainly expressing their disagreement, not to mention an avalanche of GOP criticism.

Castro has not been at the center of as much controversy in recent days, though his aggressive debate style is well known at this point. During the last debate, his questioning of Joe Biden’s memory hit on a sensitive subject — the former vice president’s mental acuity — that was one of the more dramatic storylines to come out of the event.

Beyond the Ohio debate, though, both Texans are staring down the possibility that they do not qualify for the next one, which is scheduled for Nov. 20 in Georgia. Both candidates have the 165,000 donors required for that debate, according to their campaigns, but neither is close to satisfying the most realistic polling requirement for them: 3% in four national or early voting state polls. Castro has none of the qualifying surveys, while O’Rourke has one.

They have until Nov. 13 to hit the threshold, though neither has been on a promising trajectory lately.

Faced with the November cutoff, Castro has taken a somewhat alarmist approach, sending out a fundraising email late last month warning it would be the “end of my campaign” if he did not qualify for the November debate. Meanwhile, a confident O’Rourke and his campaign have sought to reassure backers not to sweat the November cutoff.

“There is a lot of things to be worried about in the world, and qualifying for the debates is not something that you need to carry on your shoulders,” O’Rourke campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillion said in a recent weekly update for supporters, responding to someone asking how worried they should be about making it on the November debate stage. “Don’t worry — we got this one.”

Failure to qualify for the November debate could force a fresh round of speculation about the political futures of Castro and O’Rourke. The filing deadline for the Texas primary is just a few weeks later — Dec. 9 — and while both Texans have insisted they will not return home to run for U.S. Senate, the timeline could create a new urgency among their supporters.

A day before the debate, Castro projected the image of a candidate not going anywhere, unveiling 58 endorsements, including at least 14 from Texas. One of them, former El Paso state Rep. Norma Chávez, gave a potential preview of the Ohio debate in explaining her support for Castro.

“Julián is not a lightweight,” she told Politico. “He can deliver a power punch and take one.”

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Elections 2020

Beto O’Rourke Says Religious Institutions That Oppose Gay Marriage Should Lose Tax-Exempt Status

The Democratic presidential candidate gave an unequivocal answer Thursday night during a CNN town hall on LGBTQ rights, drawing intense criticism from Republicans and religious groups.

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Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke is shown during a Sept. 28, 2019, appearance at The Texas Tribune Festival in Austin. Photo credit: Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said religious institutions should be stripped of their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage, a position that sparked swift and fierce criticism from social conservatives.

The former El Paso congressman made the comment Thursday night during a CNN town hall on LGBTQ rights. Anchor Don Lemon asked O’Rourke, “Do you think religious institutions — like colleges, churches, charities — should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?”

“Yes,” O’Rourke replied without hesitating, drawing a round of applause. “There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break, for anyone or any institution, any organization in America, that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us, and so as president, we are going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”

In taking the stance, O’Rourke again staked out politically explosive territory with few allies in the primary field, much like his crusade for a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons following the deadly El Paso shooting in August. He did not immediately back down from the position on tax-exempt status, tweeting his quote on the topic minutes after he was done at the town hall.

By Friday, GOP reaction had intensified, with U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, issuing a statement denouncing O’Rourke for “extreme intolerance” and “bigoted nonsense.”

“O’Rourke and some Democrats have declared war on churches,” Texas Values president Jonathan Saenz said in a statement. “We say come and take it. This unconstitutional threat of using the government to punish churches for their Biblical beliefs on marriage must end and will be vigorously opposed. This is just another example of leftists that want to effectively ban the Bible and destroy our US Constitution.”

Calling O’Rourke’s position a “direct affront to the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty,” the Plano-based First Liberty Institute said it was prepared to take legal action if O’Rourke or any future president sought to carry out the idea.

Earlier in the town hall, which was in Los Angeles, one of O’Rourke’s primary rivals, Cory Booker, did not go nearly as far in response to a similar question. Booker, a U.S. senator from New Jersey, emphasized that there needs to be “consequences for discrimination” but repeatedly declined to say if he believed religious institutions should lose their tax-exempt status over opposition to gay marriage.

O’Rourke released a plan for LGBTQ equality in June. Lemon cited it as he asked O’Rourke the question Thursday night, noting it said, “Freedom of religion is a fundamental right, but it should not be used to discriminate.”

O’Rourke has previously targeted tax-exempt status for the National Rifle Association, calling for its revocation in response to a report by U.S. Senate Democrats that it served as a “foreign asset” for Russia ahead of the 2016 election.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Elections 2020

Elizabeth Warren Hires Texas State Director

The Democratic presidential hopeful is the first non-Texan candidate to announce a hire in the state.

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Gina Ortiz Lopez raised $1 million in the third quarter of 2019 for her second run at the 23rd Congressional District. Photo credit: Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren has hired a Texas state director, the first such move by a non-Texan candidate in the primary.

The Warren campaign told The Texas Tribune on Monday that longtime Texas organizer Jenn Longoria will lead its efforts in the state, which holds its primary on Super Tuesday, or March 3. Longoria, a San Antonian who sits on the board of Battleground Texas, has extensive organizing experience in a range of races for everything from statewide office to city council.

Longoria has also worked for presidential campaigns, serving as a field organizer for Barack Obama’s 2008 run and as a full-time volunteer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 bid.

Warren’s campaign is the second in the primary to announce a Texas state director. In early September, one of the candidates from Texas, Beto O’Rourke, named a Texas state director, Delilah Agho-Otoghile, as well as four other staffers dedicated to the state.

Some other campaigns have regional staffers, both based in Texas and elsewhere, that focus on groups of states including Texas. For example, Pete Buttigieg has a regional organizing director, Michelle Hutchinson, who is based in Austin and oversees organizers working in Texas as well as other southwest states.

Warren, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, has risen in Texas primary polls as she has ascended nationally. In a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released early last month, Warren overtook O’Rourke for second place in the state, behind Joe Biden.

Warren has come to Texas four times this cycle, making her one of the more frequent visitors in the primary beyond O’Rourke and the other Texan in the race, Julían Castro. Her latest trip, which was in mid-September, featured an Austin rally where she was joined by Jessica Cisneros, the primary challenger to Laredo U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar who Warren had endorsed days earlier.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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