A federal judge in Texas issued an opinion today declaring that the state’s refusal to allow gays to marry violates the federal constitution. At its core, this case — De Leon v. Perry — looks a lot like some of our other recent federal marriage equality cases. Some have been broader than others, but most, like De Leon, make two conclusions: First, that denying gays the right to marry violates the Due Process Clause because marriage is an important right that cannot be taken away light and, second, marriage discrimination violates the Equal Protection Clause because a state cannot treat opposite-sex and same-sex couples differently for no good reason.
Judge Garcia’s decision is notable for several reasons. I will highlight two here at the outset. First, he does not dive into the heart of the level of scrutiny debate. He is content to say that marriage discrimination cannot even pass a low rational basis test. Second, he gives us a law nerd moment that students of gay rights will read for years to come to show how one case leads to the next which leads to the next and so on. Without Windsor, this case would look very different; without Lawrence, we wouldn’t have gotten Windsor. And without Romer, we wouldn’t have gotten Lawrence. As Judge Garcia writes:
Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution.