Texas Really Wants a Gay Dallas Couple to Stay Married, but the Supreme Court Will Decide
The case of Jeffrey and Henry Buck, the gay Dallas couple who married in Massachusetts in 2006 before filing for divorce in Dallas two years later, proved a couple things. One was that gay married couples, just like straight married couples, can fall out of love and decide it's best to sever their eternal bond. Number two is that the national patchwork of gay marriage laws can lead advocates to contort themselves into surprising positions.
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With the Bucks, it was Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott who twisted himself into a pretzel of unintentional irony, intervening in their divorce case to argue that, because the Texas constitution explicitly bars the state from recognizing same-sex union, the Bucks would have to stay married.
With that, an appeals court overturned the decision of a Dallas County family court judge to grant the divorce, and the case wound up before the Texas Supreme Court.
Also included in this morning's oral arguments is a parallel case out of Austin in which a lesbian couple was granted a divorce, which was upheld on appeal. Abbott's office appealed the outcome to the state's high court.
The state's argument is a simple one, which is summed up succinctly in a brief filed over the summer:
The Texas Constitution and Family Code prohibit a Texas court from treating a same-sex couple like a validly married couple, whether in a divorce suit or in any other context. As a result, the only way this Court could provide the relief J.B. seeks is by refusing to enforce Texas law on grounds of unconstitutionality.
Never mind this summer's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Windsor v. Ontario, which struck down a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, on which Abbott's office based much of his argument. That ruling applied only to federal benefits and did not impact states' ability to pass their own rules on marriage.
The other side is careful to avoid sweeping pronouncements of equality. In an amicus brief, lawyers for the ACLU of Texas and Lambda Legal say Abbott is overstating things when he says that granting the Bucks' divorce would violate the Texas constitution.
The same-sex couples here and in the related case already are legally married under Massachusetts law, and their marriages are recognized under federal law, Windsor. They are seeking to change their marital status from "married" to "divorced." They do not ask Texas to issue them a license uniting them in marriage, nor do they seek to remain married to gain the ongoing benefits the State offers other legally married couples.
If you're interested in a play-by-play, Texas Values live-tweeted the case, declaring that it will be an "easy decision" for the court. Nevertheless, a ruling isn't expected for several months.