Federal Judge: No Marriage Equality in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico flag

A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision doesn’t apply in Puerto Rico, as it’s a territory and not a state.

U.S. District Court Judge Juan Pérez-Giménez ruled Tuesday that Puerto Rico’s marriage ban remains valid, BuzzFeed reports. The constitutional rights cited in the Obergefell v. Hodges marriage equality decision, including the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws, do not apply because Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory and not “the functional equivalent of a state,” Pérez-Giménez wrote.

There was a circuitous route to today’s ruling. Pérez-Giménez upheld Puerto Rico’s ban on same-sex marriage in October 2014, in a ruling in which he wondered if bans on incest and polygamy could be struck down if the marriage ban were. The couple challenging the ban then appealed his decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. After the Obergefell decision, territorial officials, who had been defending the ban, agreed with the plaintiffs that the law was unconstitutional.

So did the First Circuit, which vacated Pérez-Giménez’s ruling and sent it back to him for further consideration in light of Obergefell, adding, “We agree with the parties’ joint position that the ban is unconstitutional.” Same-sex couples began marrying in Puerto Rico last summer.

The judge’s Tuesday ruling will likely be appealed, BuzzFeed notes. His decision does lay out ways that he believes Puerto Rico can establish marriage equality: further action by the U.S. Supreme Court or the Puerto Rico Supreme Court; congressional action changing Puerto Rico’s status from an unincorporated territory to an incorporated one; or repeal of the marriage ban by Puerto Rico’s legislators.