Civil and Human Rights

De Leon v. Perry

De Leon v. Perry was a federal-court challenge to discriminatory marriage laws in Texas that prohibited same-sex couples from marrying.

Case Summary

In February 2014, District Court Judge Orlando Garcia ruled that these laws violated the plaintiffs’ rights to equal protection and due process guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. In his opinion, Judge Garcia declared that “[b]y denying [same-sex couples] the fundamental right to marry, Texas denies their relationship the same status and dignity afforded to citizens who are permitted to marry.” Texas appealed Judge Garcia’s ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

On September 16, 2014, Constitutional Accountability Center and the Cato Institute jointly filed a friend of the court brief in the Fifth Circuit, urging the court of appeals to uphold Judge Garcia’s decision. Our brief demonstrated that the text and history of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee equality under the law and require equality of rights for all classes of persons and groups, including gay men and lesbians. The Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment recognized the right to marry as a basic civil right of all persons. As our brief demonstrated, the Amendment’s sweeping guarantee of equality unambiguously applies to the plaintiffs in De Leon, and prohibits discriminatory marriage laws.

The Fifth Circuit heard oral argument on January 9, 2015. A week later, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed in Obergefell v.Hodges to review the constitutionality of the laws of Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, and Kentucky denying gay men and lesbians the freedom to marry.

On June 26, 2015, in an historic 5-4 ruling authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court held in Obergefell that the Fourteenth Amendment requires marriage equality and that all states must allow same-sex couples to marry as well as recognize same-sex marriages entered into out-of-state. In light of this ruling, Judge Garcia issued an order in De Leon on June 26 prohibiting state officials in Texas from enforcing any state law denying gay men and lesbians the freedom to marry. On June 29, the Fifth Circuit asked the parties in De Leon to file letter briefs addressing the appropriate disposition of the case in light of the Supreme Court’s controlling ruling in Obergefell and Judge Garcia’s order. In those submissions, both sides agreed that, in light of Obergefell, Judge Garcia had correctly enjoined Texas from enforcing its discriminatory marriage laws. On July 1, the Fifth Circuit remanded the case to the District Court for entry of judgment in favor of those who had challenged those laws.

Case Timeline

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