[JURIST] The Court of Appeals for the Fifth District of Texas [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that the state ban on same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] does not violate the US Constitution. The court also held that state trial courts do not have jurisdiction to hear cases involving the divorce of same-sex couples married in another state, overturning a 2009 ruling in which the 302nd Family District Court [official website] held that it had jurisdiction [JURIST report] over same-sex divorces and that the same-sex marriage ban violates the Equal Protection Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder] of the US Constitution. The appeals court found that the family court did not have jurisdiction because allowing subject matter jurisdiction in the case would violate a state law preventing the state from “confer[ring] the legal status of marriage upon any relationship besides the union of one man and one woman.” Addressing equal protection, the court found that the case of Baker v. Nelson [text], in which the US Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to a Minnesota same-sex marriage ban “for want of a substantial federal question,” was not determinative. The court found that the standard of review in the case is rational basis because homosexuals are not a suspect class in equal protection analysis:
The persons singled out and favored by Texas’s marriage laws, namely opposite-sex couples, have such a distinguishing and relevant characteristic: the natural ability to procreate. The state’s interest in “fostering relationships that will serve children best” is a legitimate interest within the state’s authority to regulate. Thus, although a person’s sexual orientation does not affect his or her ability to contribute to society in general, it does bear on whether he or she will enter a relationship that is naturally open to procreation and thus trigger the state’s legitimate interest in child-rearing. Accordingly, [precedent] does not support appellee’s contention that homosexuals are a suspect class.We conclude that homosexuals are not a suspect class, that persons who choose to marry persons of the same sex are not a suspect class, and that the Texas law at issue in this case does not discriminate against a suspect class.
In applying rational basis, the court found that the ban met this standard because of the state’s “legitimate interest in promoting the raising of children in the optimal familial setting. … The legislature could reasonably conclude that the institution of civil marriage as it has existed in this country from the beginning has successfully provided this desirable social structure and should be preserved.”
The Texas ruling stands in contrast to the decision handed down last month by a judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website], finding that California’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional [JURIST report]. In the ruling, the court found that even though homosexuals should be treated as a suspect class, it was unnecessary because the ban failed to satisfy even rational basis review. Citing the Supreme Court case of Romer v. Evans [text], the court held that “moral disapproval of homosexuality, animus towards gays and lesbians or simply a belief that a relationship between a man and a women is inherently better than a relationship between two men or two women, … is not a proper basis on which to legislate.” The case is currently being appealed [JURIST report] to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Several jurisdictions in the US have legalized same-sex marriage, including the District of Columbia, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts [JURIST reports] and the Coquille Indian Tribe [OregonLive report].