The federal government is throwing its weight behind efforts to ensure same-sex couples have equal treatment under the law. The attorney who represents two couples who are challenging Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage in court this week said that declaration only helps their case.
Speaking at a human rights event, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder directed the Department of Justice to give same-sex couples full and equal recognition to the greatest extent under the law.
Holder compared the movement to the 1960s civil rights movement and that his department would not be a bystander to the movement.
"What the federal government is doing is addressing an unequal treatment of American citizens only points out the problems in Texas for same-sex couples," said San Antonio attorney Neel Lane, who represents the two couples challenging the Texas ban in court on Wednesday.
He says, “You know here’s the situation the executive orders that Holder announced are actually already following a wave of decision, a wave of popular support for marriage equality.”
Lane said Federal District Judge Orlando Garcia has the entire set of legal arguments to addresses Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage, which includes the state’s argument for the law.
"The only argument that the state has really put forth is that this is a states' rights issue -- it’s Texas' right to legislate and define marriage as it wishes, but states' rights also yield to constitutional rights," Lane said.
Lane said a state under the 14th Amendment doesn’t have the right to deny someone equal protection under the law. The judge questions both sides this week and then will decide if he will proceed with a preliminary injunction of the state’s law prohibiting same-sex marriage.
In 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court threw out sections of the Defense of Marriage Act, allowing federal employees in a same-sex marriage to have equal protection and access to benefits as their opposite-sex colleagues. That federal directive is being superceded in states like Texas, which have bans on same-sex marriage in place.
*States in purple have made same-sex marriage legal, states marked in yellow have bans against such marriages and states marked in green represent new developments or legal proceedings working through federal court.
Editor's note on the map:
In the cases of Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia and Texas, federal district judges have struck down the state bans on same-sex marriage. The bans remain in place as the cases move to federal appeals court.
A court challenge has also been filed in Arizona but no hearing has happened yet in the case.
In December a federal judge ruled that Ohio must recognize same-sex marriages on death certificates only -- the state is appealing to federal appeals court -- and a case has now been filed to recognize such unions on Ohio birth certificates as well.
Not pictured: Alaska, where same-sex marriage is banned, and Hawaii, where same-sex marriage is legal.