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In Political World, Striking Down Texas' Same-Sex Marriage Ban Creates Quite A Stir

The court ruling that strikes down the ban on same-sex marriage in Texas will be appealed.

Same-sex marriage has long faced opposition in Texas, especially among Republicans. But, across the country, same-sex marriage is gaining supporters. That could change attitudes in Texas, which may ultimately affect the way political candidates treat the issue.

In 2005, Texans overwhelmingly voted to ban gay marriage. Many Republican politicians cited that vote Wednesday in condemning Judge Orlando Garcia’sruling that Texas’ ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.

“Texas will not stand by while an activist federal judge overturns the will of the Texas people,” said Todd Staples, GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, during a campaign stop in North Texas.

Staples, who’s running to try to unseat Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, authored the Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. He believes the judge’s ruling is a violation of state’s rights.

“He’s calling our state Constitution unconstitutional," Staples said. "I think this is the real crux of this ruling right here. The mere fact that he stayed his own ruling recognizes he’s on thin ice and it’s in uncharted territory."

Gov. Rick Perry agreed.

“It is not the role of the federal government to overturn the will of our citizens," Perry said.

Dewhurst promised to fight the decision of “the activist federal judge.”

Garcia’s ruling does not immediately give same-sex couples the right to marry in Texas. He’s delayed the implementation of his decision until it’s reviewed on appeal.

'One step closer to justice'

Many Democrats were equally outspoken -- but in favor of the ruling. 

Manny Garcia with the Texas Democratic Party said the move toward same-sex marriage will get loyal Democrats to the polls.

“Texas Democratic Party was one of the first in southern states to include marriage equality in our party platform, so we’re excited we are one step closer to justice,” Garcia said.

“We have a significant part of our base that cares about fairness and equality and this will excite them,” he said.

Gubernatorial candidates Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis have long staked out their positions on the issue and reacted carefully.

Abbott, as Texas attorney general, is defending the state’s ban on gay marriage in court. His state office said that Abbott, a Republican, will appeal the decision though he recognizes “there are good, well-meaning people on both sides.”

Davis, a Democrat, released a statement saying all Texans who “who love one another and are committed to spending their lives together should be allowed to marry.”

How will swing voters react?

Cal Jillson, an SMU political science professor, says same-sex marriage may be good political fodder for candidates trying to energize activist voters in the primary, but Abbott and Davis will want to attract swing voters in the fall. So while they’ve staked out positions, they won’t want same-sex marriage to be their key issue.

“Wendy Davis has been very clear she’s running for Texas governor and Texas is a conservative state so she has downplayed the abortion issue in favor of a broader women’s rights issue,” Jillson said.

He added: “I think she will downplay same-sex marriage issue in favor of a broader theme of equality and civil rights.” 

Jillson says Abbott will want to make sure he doesn’t alienate a group of people to the point that they rally to vote for his opponent.

“We are moving in a direction of allowing same-sex marriage in this country, so Attorney General Abbott will be able to give those issues a fairly wide berth,” Jillson said. 

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.