AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – The Texas Supreme Court effectively upheld the Austin divorce of a same-sex couple June 19, turning away Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and arguments that the state can’t dissolve a marriage it didn’t recognize in the first place.
The court, which is entirely stocked with elected Republicans, ruled in a 5-3 decision that the state lacked standing to intervene in the divorce of Angelique Naylor and Sabina Daly, who were married in Massachusetts in 2004. Declining to overturn the 2010 divorce has no impact on Texas’ ban on gay marriage.
But the ruling comes ahead of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that is expected any day now on whether same-sex marriage should be legal.
The Texas court largely sidestepped those bigger issues at play, and instead ruled that the state lost because it waited too long to intervene.
“We would appreciate the opportunity to address the merits of this issue of critical importance at this critical juncture in our nation’s history,” Justice Jeff Brown wrote. “Yet we must respect the bounds of our jurisdiction by addressing only the questions immediately before the Court.”
The Texas Attorney General’s Office did not try to intervene in the case until after a Travis County judge granted the divorce. The ruling noted that the state was hardly “blindsided” and that it had, in fact, been monitoring the case but stayed on the sidelines for months.
Abbott, a former justice on the state Supreme Court, was attorney general when his office challenged the divorce. He called the ruling wrong.
“The Court mistakenly relied on a technicality to allow this divorce to proceed,” Abbott said in a statement Friday. “Importantly, the Supreme Court did not address the Texas Constitution’s definition of marriage – and marriage in Texas remains an institution between one man and one woman.”
The divorce was not the last time that a court in Travis County, which is controlled by Democrats in otherwise deeply conservative Texas, has given Republicans leaders fits over same-sex marriage. Earlier this year, another Austin judge ordered that a marriage license be given to a lesbian couple, who then became the first same-sex couple to marry since Texas passed a constitutional ban on gay marriage in 2005.