Vidal v. Garcia-Padilla, CIVIL NO. 14-1253 (PG)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
Citation167 F.Supp.3d 279
Decision Date08 March 2016
Docket NumberCIVIL NO. 14-1253 (PG)
Parties Ada Conde Vidal, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Alejandro Garcia-Padilla, et al., Defendants.

167 F.Supp.3d 279

Ada Conde Vidal, et al., Plaintiffs,
Alejandro Garcia-Padilla, et al., Defendants.

CIVIL NO. 14-1253 (PG)

United States District Court, D. Puerto Rico.

Signed March 8, 2016

167 F.Supp.3d 280

Gary W. Kubek, Harriet M. Antczak, Jing Kang, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, Hayley Gorenberg, Jael Humphrey-Skomer, Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc., New York, NY, Ryan M. Kusmin, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, Washington, DC, Ada M. Conde-Vidal, Conde Law Office, San Juan, PR, Celina Romany-Siaca, Celina Romany Law Office, Guaynabo, PR, for Plaintiffs.

Idza Diaz-Rivera, San Juan, PR, for Defendants.



For, certainly, no legislation can be supposed more wholesome and necessary in the founding of a free, self-governing commonwealth, fit to take rank as one of the co-ordinate states of the Union, than that which seeks to establish it on the basis of the idea of the family, as consisting in and springing from the union for life of one man and one woman in the holy estate of matrimony; the sure foundation of all that is stable and noble in our civilization; the best guaranty of that reverent morality which is the source of all beneficent progress in social and political improvement.1


The instant action was commenced almost two years ago by the plaintiffs—a group of individuals and a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender nonprofit advocacy organization who have challenged the constitutionality of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico's codification of opposite-sex marriage under Article 68 of the Puerto Rico Civil Code ("Article 68").2 See P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 31, § 221. The plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief for violation of their rights under the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Upon the defendants' motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), see Docket No. 31, on October 21, 2014, the court dismissed the plaintiffs' claims with

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prejudice for failure to present a substantial federal question. See Docket No. 57 at page 11. Judgment was entered on that same date. See Docket No. 58. An appeal ensued. See Docket No. 59.

While the appeal was pending, the Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges, ––– U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 2584, 192 L.Ed.2d 609 (2015), ruling on the issue of same-sex marriage under the Constitution. There, the Court concluded that under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment same-sex couples may not be deprived of the fundamental right to marry. See id. at 2604–2605. Thus, the marriage laws of the States of Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee challenged by the petitioners in the consolidated cases reviewed by the Court were held invalid. See id. at 2605.

On July 8, 2015, twelve days after the Supreme Court's landmark ruling, the First Circuit vacated this court's judgment and remanded the case "for further consideration in light of Obergefell v. Hodges ." See Docket No. 62 (citation omitted). In doing so, the First Circuit expressed that it "agree[s] with the parties' joint position that the ban is unconstitutional." Id. (alteration in original).

On July 17, 2015, the parties filed a "Joint Motion for Entry of Judgment," wherein they request a determination that Article 68, and any other Puerto Rico law that (i) prohibits same-sex marriage; (ii) denies same-sex couples the rights and privileges afforded to opposite-sex couples, and (iii) refuses to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed under the laws of another jurisdiction, violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. See Docket Nos. 64 and 64-1. The parties also seek injunctive relief against the enforcement of Article 68 and any other law denying same-sex couples the right to marry. The relief now sought by the parties is intended "to benefit all LGBT people and same-sex couples in Puerto Rico...."3 See id. at pages 2–3. For the reasons set forth below, the court DENIES the parties' joint motion.


A. The Obergefell decision

The Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell seems to touch directly upon the issue at the heart of this litigation, to wit, whether Puerto Rico's marriage ban found in Article 68 violates the Fourteenth Amendment. See U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1.

In the consolidated cases on review before the Supreme Court, the petitioners, fourteen same-sex couples and two men whose same-sex partners are deceased, challenged the marriage laws of the States of Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. See Obergefell, 135 S.Ct. at 2593. The first issue decided by the Court was "whether the Constitution protects the right of same-sex couples to marry." Id. at 2606. After identifying the historical, cultural and legal principles and traditions that have shaped the right to marry as a fundamental one under the Constitution, the Court concluded that under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment same-sex couples may not be deprived of that right. See id. at 2604–2605. The Court also held that "Baker v. Nelson must be and now is overruled, and the State laws challenged by Petitioners in these cases are now held invalid to the extent they exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as oppo

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site-sex couples."Id. at 2605(emphasis added).

The Obergefell cases also "present[ed] the question of whether the Constitution requires States to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed out of State." Id. at 2607. In its analysis, the Court indicated that the "recognition bans" on valid same-sex marriages performed in other States inflicted substantial harm on same-sex couples and could continue to cause hardships in certain events, such as a spouse's hospitalization, across state lines. See id. The Court also noted the distressing complications such bans created in the law of domestic relations. See id. These reasons led to the following conclusion:

The Court, in this decision, holds that same-sex couples may exercise this fundamental right in all States. It follows that the Court must also hold—and it now does hold—that there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character.

Id. at 2607–2608(emphasis added).

As forewarned in this court's opinion and order from October 21, 2014, see Docket No. 57, lower courts are bound by the Supreme Court's decisions " 'until such time as the Court informs [them] that [they] are not.' " Hicks v. Miranda, 422 U.S. 332, 344, 95 S.Ct. 2281, 45 L.Ed.2d 223 (1975)(citation omitted). After careful consideration, this court reads the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell as one incorporating the fundamental right to same-sex marriage in all States through the Fourteenth Amendment and, consequently, striking down the marriage and recognition bans codified in the laws of four States in violation of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of that Amendment.4 However, Obergefell did not incorporate the fundamental right at issue to Puerto Rico through the Fourteenth Amendment, nor did it invalidate Article 68. And it is not within the province of this court to declare, as the parties ask, that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees same-sex couples in Puerto Rico the right to marry.5

In interpreting Obergefell, this court is bound by an elementary principle of federal jurisdiction under which "[a] judgment or decree among the parties to a lawsuit resolves issues among them, but it does not conclude the right of strangers to those proceedings." Martin v. Wilks, 490 U.S. 755, 762, 109 S.Ct. 2180, 104 L.Ed.2d 835 (1989), superseded by statute, Civil Rights Act of 1991, Pub.L. 102–166, 105 Stat. 1071; see also Doran v. Salem Inn, Inc. , 422 U.S. 922, 931, 95 S.Ct. 2561, 45 L.Ed.2d 648 (1975)(noting that "neither declaratory nor injunctive relief can directly interfere with enforcement of contested statutes or ordinances except with respect to the particular plaintiffs...."). This

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supports the conclusion that Obergefell does not directly invalidate Article 68 or resolves the issues presented before this court.6

At this juncture, the court's job is to determine the extent, if any, to which Obergefell impacts the Puerto Rico marriage laws. This task, in turn, requires examining two doctrines elaborated by the Supreme Court that touch directly upon the incorporation of certain fundamental rights, such as the right to marry, to the States and Puerto Rico through the Fourteenth Amendment.

B. The Doctrine of Selective Incorporation

At the time of its adoption in 1871, the Bill of Rights—and, particularly, the individual liberties secured within it—did not apply against the States. See Barron ex rel. Tiernan v. Baltimore, 32 U.S. (7 Pet.) 243, 250, 8 L.Ed. 672 (1833)(noting that the amendments found in the Bill of...

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