WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Thursday stated unambiguously that Puerto Rico's ban on same-sex couples' marriages is unconstitutional, throwing a federal judge off a case after the judge had ruled in March that the ban was still in effect.
"The district court's ruling errs in so many respects that it is hard to know where to begin," the unsigned opinion from the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals stated in harshly criticizing U.S. District Court Judge Juan Pérez-Giménez' actions in the case.
Pérez-Giménez had ruled in favor of the ban in October 2014, but the 1st Circuit sent the case back to the trial court after the Supreme Court's June 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges striking down marriage bans nationwide. The appeals court ordered Pérez-Giménez to "further consider" the matter "in light of Obergefell," adding that the appeals court judges "agree with the parties ... that the ban is unconstitutional."
Nonetheless, in March, Pérez-Giménez upheld the ban for a second time, ruling that the Supreme Court's ruling does not apply to a territory like Puerto Rico.
The appeals court disagreed strongly, stating, "In ruling that the ban is not unconstitutional because the applicable constitutional right does not apply in Puerto Rico, the district court both misconstrued that right and directly contradicted our mandate."
The appeals court granted the request from the parties challenging the ban that the appeals court issue an order "requiring the district court to enter judgment in their favor striking down the ban as unconstitutional."
The appeals court also took the extraordinary step of kicking Pérez-Giménez off the case, ordering that the case "be assigned randomly by the clerk to a different judge to enter judgment in favor of the Petitioners promptly."
The matter was before 1st Circuit Judges Juan Torruella, Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson, and William Joseph Kayatta Jr. The opinion, however, was issued "per curiam," meaning, "by the court" — as in, it was not signed by any of the judges in particular.
Puerto Rico officials have agreed with the parties challenging the ban that Puerto Rico's ban is unconstitutional since the Obergefell decision.