Two Austin women are at the center of the huge, national fight over same sex marriage, and thanks to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that extended the right to marry across 30 states, their lawsuit could be one of two that brings marriage equality to the nation’s second-largest state.
The Supreme Court’s decision on Monday was so encouraging to Nicole Dimetman and Cleopatra De Leon that their attorneys immediately filed a petition with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to get the case moving as quickly as possible.
Nicole and Cleopatra were legally married in Massachusetts, but they currently live in Austin. Their lawsuit against the Texas ban on marriage equality is one of two currently before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is now the focal point of the legal battle for numerous states. If the court upholds the Texas and Louisiana bans on marriage equality, then the Supreme Court will again have a chance to weigh in or, as it did on Monday, decline to hear the appeals.
However, legal experts are saying that with same sex marriage now the law of the land in 30 states, it really is just a matter of time before laws in all 50 states are brought into uniformity.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, currently running for governor, appealed a lower court’s ruling that his state’s ban on same sex marriage is unconstitutional. “By recognizing and encouraging the lifelong commitment between a man and woman — even when they do not produce offspring — the state encourages others who will procreate to enter into the marriage relationship,” Abbott wrote in the state’s appeal, filed with the circuit court in July.
Despite Abbott’s argument, matters surrounding procreation also compel Nicole’s and Cleopatra’s cause.
The couple had their first child two years ago, but because Texas law expressly forbids recognition of their marriage, Nicole had to adopt her spouse’s newborn baby, requiring her to undergo a criminal background check and all the other hassles of the adoption process. They told Austin NBC affiliate KXAN-TV recently (watch the video below) that Nicole is currently pregnant, expecting to deliver in March of next year.
That puts them in a precarious legal situation, particularly if something goes wrong during pregnancy or birth. The Centers for Disease Control says that complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the sixth leading cause of death for adult women in the United States — and because Texas law does not recognize same sex marriages from other states, that means a pregnant woman’s spouse does not have legal authority to make crucial decisions for the family if her partner is incapacitated.
“The outcome of the appeal will determine if De Leon will be considered the child’s parent as a matter of law, or if she and Dimetman will be forced to incur the uncertainty, expense and burden of adopting this child, as they did with their first child,” the couple argues in their latest brief filed with the circuit court.
“We shouldn’t have to go through a criminal background check,” Cleopatra told KXAN. “We shouldn’t have to be fingerprinted. This is a child that we planned for, that was conceived in love within the bounds of our marriage.”