WASHINGTON — Puerto Rico's government will no longer defend the commonwealth's ban on same-sex couples' marriages — although it has asked an appeals court to put a case challenging that ban on hold for now.
The lawsuit over that ban — which resulted in one of the few trial court rulings upholding any such ban — is currently on appeal before the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.
In a news conference on Friday, Puerto Rico Secretary of Justice César Miranda announced the government's new position.
In a filing on Friday afternoon at the 1st Circuit, lawyers for the commonwealth wrote that a prior Supreme Court decision holding that same-sex couples' marriage claims lacked a "substantial federal question" could no longer be considered good law given that the Supreme Court in January accepted marriage cases out of four states for review.
Without that procedural hurdle, they write, "it follows from recent doctrinal developments in this area of law that government regulations that affect people based on their sexual orientation cannot withstand constitutional attacks under the Equal Protection Clause unless they seek to further, at the very least, an important state interest by means that are substantial related to that interest."
Puerto Rico's marriage laws "distinguish based on sexual orientation and/or gender," they continue, and "the Commonwealth cannot prevail" under the heightened scrutiny that they believe such laws should receive from court.
Additionally, they note that the laws also clearly "burden fundamental rights" to marriage, meaning the ban "does not survive constitutional muster under due-process analysis as well."
At the same time, however, the government asked the 1st Circuit to hold off oral arguments in the case until the U.S. Supreme Court resolves the marriage ban cases currently pending before it.
"[W]e respectfully move the [1st Circuit] to postpone any oral argument in this case until a decision on the merits has been reached on the cases before the highest court," they write.
Lambda Legal, which has been representing the plaintiff same-sex couples fighting the ban, celebrated the government's changed position.
"In declining to further defend the Commonwealth's discriminatory marriage ban, Puerto Rico's government finally recognizes that denying marriage to LGBT people is harmful and cannot be justified. The marriage ban's sole purpose is to perpetuate discrimination, and it is just plain wrong," Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a staff attorney for Lambda Legal, said in a statement.