Ruling raises doubt over legality of same-sex marriage in Puerto Rico

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Puerto Rican flag

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — An unexpected ruling from a federal judge in Puerto Rico is raising doubts and creating confusion about the future of same-sex couples seeking to get married on the island.

Judge Juan Perez-Gimenez ruled that a U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows gay couples to marry anywhere in the United States does not apply on the island because it is a U.S. territory and not a state. The ruling also rejects a motion filed by Lambda Legal and Puerto Rico’s government to stop enforcement of the island’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Lambda Legal attorney Omar Gonzalez said Wednesday the group is seeking to have the ruling vacated as soon as possible.

“We believe this order is erroneous,” Gonzalez said in a phone interview. “It’s something that we cannot let stand.”

Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla said he would not observe Tuesday’s ruling by the U.S. District Court in Puerto Rico but rather follow rulings that higher courts have previously issued on the matter.

Garcia authorized gay marriage through an executive order shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in June 2015. However, legislators did not amend Puerto Rico’s civil code to allow for same-sex marriages, and activists on Wednesday called on them to do so.

“It was a shame that same-sex marriage was imposed by the U.S. Supreme Court and not authorized by Puerto Rico’s legislature,” said rights activist Pedro Julio Serrano.

It is unclear if legislators will take up that petition. A spokeswoman for Senate President Eduardo Bhatia did not return a message seeking comment. Bhatia had earlier condemned the ruling.

“It is unbelievable that the federal court itself ignores that rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution apply in Puerto Rico,” he said.

Gonzalez said the ruling does not invalidate the dozens of same-sex marriages that have taken place on the island.

The U.S. territory recently extended other rights to same-sex couples, in December ruling that they can adopt children.

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