Saturday, June 20, 2015

Texas Supreme Court: State Lacks Standing To Appeal Trial Court's Grant of Same-Sex Divorce

In a 5-3 decision, the Texas Supreme Court yesterday in State of Texas v. Naylor  (TX Sup. Ct., June 19, 2015), held that the state lacks standing to appeal a divorce decree of sorts that had been granted by a trial court to a lesbian couple.  In the case, the couple had been legally married in Massachusetts, but were now Texas residents.  The trial court recognized the problem of issuing a decree since under Texas law the couple's marriage was not recognized.  Instead it issued an order-- pursuant to an agreement of the parties-- which was "intended to be a substitute for ... a valid and subsisting divorce... and is intended to dispose of all economic issues and liabilities as between the parties whether they [are] divorced or not."  After the order was entered, the state of Texas filed a motion to intervene to defend the Texas law that limits divorce actions to opposite-sex couples who are married to one another.

The Supreme Court's majority opinion by Justice Brown held that the state was too late in attempting to intervene as a party since it did not try to do so until after a decree was entered.  It also held that the state did not show grounds to maintain a third-party appeal of the trial court's decision. Justice Boyd filed a concurring opinion emphasizing that the state is in no way bound by the trial court's decree.

Justice Willett delivered a dissenting opinion (which was joined by Justices Guzman and Devine) concluding:
In my view, the attorney general—constitutionally bound to “represent the State in all suits” has an interest sufficient to intervene to defend Texas law against perceived constitutional attack. His arguments may not prevail, but he should be allowed to make them.
Justice Devine also filed a separate dissent reaching the merits and concluding that the Texas ban on same-sex marriages is constitutional.  Thus, since the parties were not married, the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the divorce action. Dallas Morning News reports on the decision. [Thanks to How Appealing for the lead.]