On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling ordering all states to recognize same-sex marriages. The full opinion is found here.
CSA handles all facets of family law, including new issues that will now arise in light of this recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Partner Brenda Ferguson Hasenzahl has recently co-authored an article, as shown below, regarding the recent Texas Supreme Court case of DeLeon vs. Perry, which discusses the legal issues and arguments behind the issue pending before the Texas Supreme Court as to same-sex marriages, and how that case was affected by the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Contact our office for all of your family law needs.
A Summary of De Leon vs. Perry
Authored By: Brenda Ferguson Hasenzahl and Lauren Gaydos Duffer
As everyone is now aware, on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in which it declared same-sex marriages to be recognized as legal in all 50 states. At the time of this ruling, the Texas case of De Leon vs. Perry had been pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in which the Plaintiffs sued the State of Texas challenging Texas’ marriage law. More specifically, Plaintiffs’ argued that the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and related statutes contained in the Texas Family Code violate their Federal Constitutional rights. The purpose of this article is to provide a brief background of the law on a state and federal level, the legal trend across the United States, and to provide a summary of the legal theories presented by the attorneys for Plaintiffs and the State of Texas during their respective oral arguments.
In 1996, the federal government enacted the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), allowing states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted under the laws of other states. Nearly a decade later, Texas followed suit by amending Article 1, Section 32 of the Texas Constitution to specifically ban same-sex marriage by defining marriage as “the union of one man and one woman.” However, in 2013, DOMA was declared unconstitutional in the U.S. Supreme Court’s historical decision in United States v. Windsor. In this case, Edith Windsor was the widow and sole executor of the estate of her late female spouse, Thea Spyer. Edith and Thea were married in Canada in 2007, and then moved to New York. Upon her death, Thea left her estate to Edith, but the IRS ruled that that a surviving “spouse” only applied to marriages between a man and a woman, and over $350,000.00 of estate taxes were imposed to Edith. Had their marriage been recognized as a ‘legal’ marriage in the eyes of the federal government, the entire estate would have qualified for a marital exemption, and no taxes would be owed. The Court ruled DOMA was unconstitutional under the due process guarantees of the 5th Amendment, and ordered the federal government to issue a tax refund, including interest. However, United States v. Windsor limited its ruling, and did not address whether other benefits previously awarded solely to heterosexual couples, such as social security benefits and veteran benefits, should also be granted to same-sex couples. Further, the United States v. Windsor failed to address whether or not a state can refuse to recognize valid civil marriages of a same-sex couple who were wed in another state.
As of June 2015 (just prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling), same-sex marriage was legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia. Texas was one of 13 states that had a ban on same-sex marriage; however several states with that ban were awaiting federal court rulings as to the constitutionality of those laws.
As to the De Leon case, 4 Plaintiffs filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas on October 28, 2013. The 4 Plaintiffs consisted of two same-sex couples; the first was an unmarried male couple of 18 years who reside in Plano and who wished to marry in-state. The second couple included lead Plaintiff Cleopatra De Leon, a U.S. Air Force veteran. She and her partner Nicole were legally married in Massachusetts in 2009 (a state that recognized same-sex marriage), and wanted Texas to recognize their marriage. Cleopatra and Nicole have a young son (conceived with assisted reproduction technology), and Nicole just gave birth to a second child, using the same assisted reproduction technology and sperm donor as their first child. The lead Defendant was Rick Perry, sued in his capacity as Governor.
On February 26, 2014, Judge Orlando Garcia ruled in favor of the Plaintiffs, and anticipating an appeal by the Defendants, placed a stay on his order until an appeal was filed and it would be reviewed by the 5th Circuit Court. In reaching his ruling, he cited the language of Windsor, and also emphasized that the current ban causes discrimination to children of same-sex marriage as it denies those children “the protections and stability they would enjoy if their parents could marry.” Given the history of Texas as a conservative state, Judge Garcia’s ruling was a surprise to many.
The Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments on January 9, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Arguing for the state, Texas solicitor Jonathan Mitchell argued that same-sex marriage was an issue for the electorate, and not the judiciary, to decide. Much of the state’s argument was based on the theory of “responsible procreation” – which states Texas has a legitimate state interest in encouraging opposite-sex couples to procreate. The argument included the opinion that marriage was a subsidy, referring to numerous financial and legal benefits that the state provides to married couples, and the state is entitled to reserve this subsidy for relationships that are more likely to advance the state’s interest in reducing out-of-wedlock births. Consequently, there is no incentive in allowing homosexuals to wed, because their sexual activity cannot produce children. Lead counsel for the Plaintiffs, Neel Lane of the Akin Gump law firm, pointed out that the “responsible procreation” argument has already been rejected by the 10th and 4th Circuit Courts. He argued that his clients were asking for their 14th Amendment rights to be enforced, and posed the question “if marriage is good for children, why deny marriage to same sex couples with children?”
Exactly one week after oral arguments concluded, the United States Supreme Court announced it would hear same-sex marriage cases for four other states (KY, MI, OH and TN) during the Spring of 2015. As such, the Fifth Circuit appeared to wait to rule in De Leon until the U.S. Supreme Court would make a ruling, and the Supreme Court’s June 26, 2015 ruling clearly states that same-sex couples across the nation have a legal right to marry each other. This ruling will have a significant impact on family law, probate law, and nearly every other practice of law.