The Governor of Puerto Rico has spoken out in favour of equal marriage – after a judge attempted to re-ban same-sex weddings by throwing out parts of the US Constitution.
Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States and is not fully recognised as a US state.
After the US Supreme Court ruled last May that equal marriage is a constitutional right, a panel of judges in Puerto Rico also cemented marriage equality – acting to reverse a 2014 ruling that upheld Puerto Rico’s marriage ban.
However, US District Court Judge Juan Pérez-Giménez struck back this week, issuing an order aimed at re-banning equal marriage.
Judge Pérez-Giménez, the same judge who previously ruled against marriage equality and was overruled, now claims that the Supreme Court ruling doesn’t apply there because Puerto Rico “is not treated as the functional equivalent of a State for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment”.
But he argument doesn’t hold much sway with Puerto Rico’s Governor, Alejandro García Padilla – who insists weddings will proceed regardless.
He said that equal marriage case had already been concluded, with the US Supreme Court and the First Circuit Court of Appeals both affiriming that all US citizens have a “fundamental right to marriage”, including same-sex couples.
He added that he would “respect the rulings of superior courts” above the ruling of Judge Pérez-Giménez, adding that the judge’s ruling was a drastic departure from the existing legal understanding.
Lambda Legal, one of the law firms that sued for equal marriage in the US, says it is confident the ruling will be overturned.
Staff attorney Omar González-Pagan said: “The marriages of same-sex couples in Puerto Rico are not in limbo and we appreciate that Governor García Padilla has reassured LGBT people and made clear to all others in the Island that marriage is here to stay.
“The decision issued yesterday by District Court Judge Pérez Giménez is fundamentally flawed and we plan to file an appeal to ensure that this discriminatory ban does not stand.
“The law is on our side. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit was clear when it stated that Puerto Rico’s marriage ban was unconstitutional and the U.S. Supreme Court has indisputably held that the constitutional guarantees of liberty and equality apply with equal force to the Commonwealth.”
In his ruling, Judge Pérez-Giménez claimed: “One might be tempted to assume that the constant reference made to the ‘States’ in Obergefell includes the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
“Yet, it is not the role of this court to venture into such an interpretation.”
He added: “The Constitution applies in full in incorporated Territories surely destined for statehood but only in part in unincorporated Territories”.
However, activists are confident that the ruling will be overturned on appeal – especially given Pérez-Giménez has previously had his judgements overturned on equal marriage.
Judge Juan Perez-Gimenez was just one of two district judges in the US to uphold a same-sex marriage ban in 2014, against a flow of over 50 rulings in favour of equality.
In his since-overturned 2014 ruling, Judge Perez-Gimenez cited a ruling from 1972 against same-sex marriage – which almost all other judges in the country agreed had been rendered obsolete by subsequent case law – and claimed: “Recent affirmances of same-gender marriage seem to suffer from a peculiar inability to recall the principles embodied in existing marriage law.”