Lambda Legal Urges First Circuit to Reverse Ruling Dismissing Puerto Rico Marriage Case

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January 26, 2015
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Lambda Legal plaintiffs Zulma Oliveras Vega and Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro

Today, Lambda Legal filed a brief urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit to overturn a lower court ruling dismissing Conde-Vidal v. Garcia-Padilla, the lawsuit seeking to end the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s discriminatory ban on marriage for LGBT couples.

Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal, said:

The District Court ruling in October was contrary to Supreme Court precedent and stands in stark contrast against the avalanche of court rulings over the past 18 months finding marriage bans like Puerto Rico’s to be discriminatory and unconstitutional. Every day that loving, committed couples in Puerto Rico are denied the dignity and respect of marriage represents one more day in which their families are at risk and the Commonwealth sends a discriminatory message to LGBT people. We won’t stop fighting on their behalf. We remain undeterred by the district court’s ruling and look forward to vindicating the rights of LGBT Puerto Ricans. Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia recognize the freedom to marry. We are confident that Puerto Rico, the only jurisdiction within the First Circuit to ban marriage for LGBT people, will soon follow.

In its brief, Lambda Legal argues that the lower court erred in holding that Baker v. Nelson, a United States Supreme Court summary disposition from 42 years ago, prevented it from considering plaintiffs’ claims.  The lower court not only misread the holding of the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, but also ignored over four decades of precedent and left unaddressed the far-reaching harms the marriage ban inflicts on LGBT couples and their children.  As scores of courts have now held, marriage bans like Puerto Rico’s violate both the equal protection and due process guarantees of the United States Constitution.

The plaintiffs in the case include: Ada M. Conde Vidal (54) and Ivonne Álvarez Vélez (68) of San Juan, together for 14 years, married in Massachusetts in 2004, and have one daughter; Iris Delia Rivera Rivera (57) – a former member of the National Guard deployed in the first Gulf War – and Maritza López Avilés (58) of Toa Alta, together for 38 years and parents of one daughter; José A. Torruellas Iglesias (57) and Thomas J. Robinson (56) of San Juan, together for 14 years and married in Toronto in 2007; Zulma Oliveras Vega (44) and Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro (44) of Carolina, together for six years and parents of one daughter; Johanne Vélez García (50) and Faviola Meléndez Rodríguez (37) of Guaynabo, together for six years and married in New York in 2012; and Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a leading advocacy organization for LGBT people and their families, with members throughout the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

On January 16th, the U.S. Supreme Court granted review of the marriage equality cases decided by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, including two Ohio cases. The Ohio cases are Henry v. Hodges, where Lambda Legal joined Gerhardstein & Branch, and Obergefell v. Hodges, where the ACLU joined Gerhardstein & Branch. Oral argument is expected to take place later this year.

Read the press release.