Constitutional challenge to same-sex marriage prohibition laws in Puerto Rico dismissed

Constitutional challenge to same-sex marriage prohibition laws in Puerto Rico dismissedDownload the opinion: Conde v. Rius

The U. S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico dismissed a constitutional challenge to same-sex marriage prohibition laws in Puerto Rico. Article 68 in Puerto Rico’s Civil Code stipulates that marriage is between a man and a woman exclusively, and expressly states that same-sex (including those involving transsexuals) marriages contracted in other jurisdictions will not be recognized.

The plaintiff’s contended that the prohibition contravenes the Equal Protection Clause (which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender) and the fundamental right to the liberty to choose one’s spouse. The defendant, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, claimed that the prohibition is a valid exercise of its regulatory power.

The court dismissed the challenge after Puerto Rico moved to dismiss the case. The basis: the challenge fails to present a substantial federal question, under the precedent set by the United States Supreme Court in Baker v. Nelson (1972), which was an appeal dismissal (the opinion literally only states: “The appeal is dismissed for want of a substantial federal question.”). Said appeal dismissal maintained the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision in 1971, dismissing a constitutional challenge similar to the plaintiff’s in this case.

Normally, an appeal dismissal does not establish precedent but in Baker, the case reached the Supreme Court by mandatory appellate review. This means the Supreme Court’s dismissal became a decision on the merits of the case. In doing so, the Supreme Court endorsed the Minnesota court’s dismissal of a constitutional challenge to the same-sex marriage prohibition law of the state, and precludes lower courts to decide contrarily in the issue adjudicated in dismissing the Baker case.

Judge Juan M. Pérez-Giménez, the federal judge who crafted this opinion, stated that the Baker case, acknowledged by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2012 case, “prevents the adoption of arguments that presume or rest on a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.” In that respect, Pérez-Giménez concluded “even if this court disagreed (with the Baker precedent), the First Circuit’s decision would tie this Court’s hands.”

Judge Pérez-Giménez concludes that creating a suspect classification for same-sex relationships would imply an overruling of Baker.

The plaintiffs in this case also contended that “doctrinal developments” from Supreme Court decisions, such as Lawrence v. Texas, Romer v. Evans, and Windsor v. US, turn Baker ineffective or permit lower courts to ignore it. Pérez-Giménez sides with Judge Boudin from the First Circuit in stating the “while certain ‘gay-rights’ claims have prevailed at the Supreme Court, (…) those decisions do not mandate states to permit same-gender marriage. About Windsor v. US, where the Supreme Court upheld the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional, Pérez-Giménez expressed the cases answer different questions, and thus, the DOMA decision doesn’t hold precedence over the case.

In conclusion, the constitutional challenge was dismissed with prejudice under the basis that Puerto Rico’s elected representatives are the ones that may legitimately regulate marriage.

Summary: Cristian González

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