Same-sex marriage in Puerto Rico
|Legal status of same-sex unions|
* Not yet in effect, but automatic deadline set by judicial body for same-sex marriage to become legal
Same-sex marriage in Puerto Rico, which is an unincorporated territory of the United States, has been legal since July 13, 2015, as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26, 2015, which held bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Same-sex couples could begin applying for marriage licenses on July 13, 2015. On July 17, 2015, same-sex couples began marrying in the territory.
Governor Alejandro García Padilla announced that the commonwealth would comply with the Supreme Court's ruling within 15 days. The parties to the principal lawsuit challenging Puerto Rico's denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples jointly asked the First Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the ruling of the Puerto Rican District Court that had upheld Puerto Rico's ban on same-sex marriage, which the appeals court did on July 8, 2015.
Recognition of same-sex relationships
In 2008, the Commonwealth Senate passed a proposed referendum that would have asked voters to amend Puerto Rico's Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, while also banning same-sex marriages, civil unions and domestic partnership benefits. Known as resolución 99 (resolution 99), the proposed referendum was not approved by the Commonwealth's House of Representatives, after the legislative committee studying the proposal decided not to recommend its approval. A similar bill was defeated in 2009.
In early January 2010, Governor Luis Fortuño suggested to a group of evangelical ministers that he favored amending Puerto Rico's Constitution to restrict marriage to the union of one man and one woman. Shortly afterwards, he categorically denied that he favored such a measure.
Conde-Vidal v. Garcia-Padilla
On March 25, 2014, two women residing in Puerto Rico, represented by Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico seeking recognition of their 2004 marriage in Massachusetts. They initially named as defendants in their suit, Conde-Vidal v. Rius-Amendariz, Puerto Rico's Secretary of Health and Registrar of Vital Statistics, later adding Governor Alejandro J. Garcia Padilla and treasury director, retitling the case Conde-Vidal v. Garcia-Padilla.
The plaintiffs argued that Puerto Rico's marriage law denied them constitutional rights guaranteed under the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the United States Constitution. Four more couples joined as plaintiffs in June. On August 28, Christian Chaplains, Capellanes Internacionales Cristianos León de Judá, asked to be allowed to intervene in the suit on behalf of its eight members who reside in Puerto Rico. They claimed that if the court rules for the plaintiffs they "will be obligated by law to marry same-sex couples." On October 17, Judge Juan M. Perez-Gimenez denied the group's request.
Judge Perez-Gimenez dismissed the plaintiff's lawsuit on October 21, 2014, ruling that the United States Supreme Court's ruling in the 1972 case Baker v. Nelson prevented him from considering the plaintiffs' arguments. He concluded that Puerto Rico's definition of marriage did not conflict with the U.S. Constitution and that:
Puerto Rico, acting through its legislature, remains free to shape its own marriage policy. In a system of limited constitutional self-government such as ours, this is the prudent outcome. The people and their elected representatives should debate the wisdom of redefining marriage. Judges should not...traditional marriage is the fundamental unit of the political order. And ultimately the very survival of the political order depends upon the procreative potential embodied in traditional marriage
The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. On March 20, 2015, Puerto Rico Secretary of Justice César Miranda announced that the Commonwealth would tell the First Circuit that it had decided that Puerto Rico's statute banning the licensing and recognition of same-sex marriage was legally indefensible. Governor Alejandro García Padilla said that "legal developments in a number of American jurisdictions point to an undeniable consensus" against the discrimination found in Puerto Rico's statutes with respect to the right of same-sex couples to marry. Puerto Rico's brief said that Baker v. Nelson was no longer controlling, that "Puerto Rico's marriage ban must be examined through heightened scrutiny", and that "the Commonwealth cannot responsibly advance ... any interest sufficiently important or compelling to justify the differentiated treatment afforded" same-sex couples. It asked the Court of Appeals to reverse the judgment of the District Court.
On April 14, 2015, the First Circuit suspended proceedings until after a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on marriage cases it was considering on appeal from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The court asked the parties to file a proposed schedule for further proceedings in Conde-Vidal within 14 days of the Supreme Court's decision.
The First Circuit ruled in the case on July 8, 2015, overturning the territory's statutory ban on same-sex marriage and remanding the case back to the District Court. On 8 March 2016, District Court Judge Juan Pérez-Giménez ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges (see below) did not apply to Puerto Rico, and so upheld the ban on same-sex marriage, in conflict with the First Circuit Court's directions. In response, Governor Alejandro García Padilla stated he would respect the rulings of superior courts which have struck down same-sex marriage bans, ensuring same-sex marriages continue in Puerto Rico. An appeal of Judge Pérez-Giménez's ruling was promptly lodged to the First Circuit Court, who on April 8, 2016 issued an unsigned opinion rejecting the lower court's ruling and 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 Circuit Court also ordered that the case "be assigned randomly by the clerk to a different judge (of the lower court) to enter judgment in favor of the Petitioners promptly." On April 11, 2016, Judge Gustavo A. Gelpi of the Puerto Rican District Court issued a declaratory judgement striking down Puerto Rico's same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional and declaring that any marriage of a same-sex couple performed in the territory since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges be fully recognised by government agencies and officials.
U.S. Supreme Court ruling
On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. That same day, all parties to Conde-Vidal asked the First Circuit to overrule the district court as soon as possible. Governor Alejandro García Padilla announced an executive order requiring all Puerto Rican government agencies to implement the Obergefell ruling within 15 days.
From July 2015 to June 2016, 422 same-sex marriages took place in Puerto Rico.
- LGBT rights in Puerto Rico
- Pedro Julio Serrano, Puerto Rico's most prominent LGBT activist
- Same-sex marriage in the United States
- Recognition of same-sex unions in the Americas
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