Federal court smacks down Puerto Rico judge-with-a-grudge who tried to re-ban equal marriage

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

A federal court has smacked down a judge who tried to re-enforce a ban on same-sex marriage in spite of the Supreme Court ruling.

Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States and is not fully recognised as a US state.

After the US Supreme Court ruled last May that equal marriage is a constitutional right, a panel of Puerto Rico judges also affirmed marriage equality.

However, US District Court Judge Juan Pérez-Giménez – a judge who previously ruled against marriage equality repeatedly – decided to ignore both rulings and issued a new order aimed at re-banning equal marriage.

He incredibly claimed the Supreme Court ruling doesn’t apply because Puerto Rico “is not treated as the functional equivalent of a State for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment”.

But in a scathing judgement this week, the First Circuit Court of Appeal tossed out the ruling from Pérez-Giménez and demolished his reasoning.

The Appeals judges wrote: “The district court’s ruling errs in so many respects that it is hard to know where to begin. The constitutional rights at issue here are the rights to due process and equal protection, as protected by both the Fourteenth and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

“In any event, for present purposes we need not gild the lily.

“Our prior mandate was clear: Pursuant to Court Order filed June 26, 2015, we vacate the district court’s Judgment in this case. [We] agree with the parties’ joint position that the ban is unconstitutional.”

He added: “Those rights have already been incorporated as to Puerto Rico… and even if they had not, then the district court would have been able to decide whether they should be.

“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. And it compounded its error (and signalled a lack of confidence in its actions), by failing to enter a final judgment to enable an appeal in ordinary course.

“This court may employ mandamus jurisdiction when a district court has misconstrued or otherwise failed to effectuate a mandate issued by this court.”

It adds: “Respondents’ motion to join in the petition for writ of mandamus is granted, the petition itself is also granted, and the case is remitted to be assigned randomly by the clerk to a different judge to enter judgment in favour of the Petitioners promptly, and to conduct any further proceedings necessary in this action.”

Judge Juan Perez-Gimenez was just one of two district judges in the US to uphold a same-sex marriage ban in 2014, against dozens of rulings in favour of equality.

In his since-overturned 2014 ruling, Judge Perez-Gimenez cited a ruling from 1972 against same-sex marriage – which almost all other judges in the country agreed had been rendered obsolete by subsequent case law.