AUSTIN, Texas — Taking advantage of a newly favorable legal climate, gay-marriage advocates have taken their fight to federal courts in Texas and at least 16 other states, winning recent rulings in Oklahoma and Utah that could spell trouble for the Lone Star State’s ban on same-sex spouses. Gay couples have filed three federal lawsuits in Austin and San Antonio asking judges to void the Texas law and constitutional amendment limiting marriage to opposite- sex couples.
Making the same arguments that prevailed in courtrooms in Republican-dominated Oklahoma and Utah, the lawsuits claim the ban on same-sex marriage subjects gay couples to unequal treatment in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
“Texas stigmatizes same-sex couples, as well as their children and families, and denies them the same dignity, respect and stature afforded officially recognized heterosexual family relationships,” said a lawsuit filed in Austin by two women who hope to marry and two men who want Texas to recognize their out-of-state marriage. Both couples live in Austin.
That lawsuit and another filed in Austin by two Fort Worth-area men are still in the early stages.
A San Antonio challenge is further along, with a Feb. 12 hearing set on a request for an injunction barring Texas from enforcing its gay-marriage ban.
Like the legal challenges in Oklahoma and Utah, the Texas lawsuits employ language taken from last summer’s U. S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act, enacted in 1996 to limit marriage, under federal law, to the union of one man and one woman.
The high court’s 5-4 decision in United States v. Windsor was a “game changer,” shifting overnight the legal ground beneath gay-marriage bans, said Jody Scheske, a lawyer for the two Austin couples who sued.
Writing for the Windsor majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the law, known as DOMA, violated the core constitutional principle that people are entitled to equal protection under the law.