SAN JUAN (Reuters) - The Puerto Rican government will no longer defend a law that bans same-sex couples from marrying and does not recognize the validity of such marriages performed in other jurisdictions, the U.S. commonwealth's attorney general announced on Friday.
The announcement coincided with the filing of a government brief before the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, where the Puerto Rico law is being challenged.
The Caribbean island, which is a U.S. territory, said it would no longer defend Article 68 of its Civil Code which contains the same sex marriage rules.
"The decision recognizes that all human beings are equal before the law," Justice Secretary César Miranda said. "We believe in an equal society in which everyone enjoys the same rights.”
The move paves the wave for the recognition of gay marriages in Puerto Rico, and was welcomed by gay singing star Ricky Martin, who is beloved in his native Puerto Rico.
“Today is a great day for my island,” Martin said in a Twitter message. “My heart is beating out of my chest. How proud I am to live in a country of equality.”
Gay marriage bans have been toppled in a growing number of states following a Supreme Court ruling two years ago that invalidated a federal law that restricted benefits to heterosexual couples.
Oral arguments are scheduled before the U.S. Supreme Court next month on the constitutionality of gay marriage bans in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, a Democrat who is a practicing Catholic, said in a statement that the spread of laws in several U.S. states had pointed to an "undeniable consensus that does not allow discriminatory distinctions as that contained in our Civil Code with respect to the rights of same sex couples."
"Everyone knows my religious beliefs but political leaders should not impose their beliefs," said Garcia Padilla, who has defended the traditional definition of marriage in the past.
The decision by Puerto Rico came on the last day that it had to answer arguments presented by five same sex couples and the group Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, who were appealing a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Juan Perez Gimenez last October that dismissed their lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Puerto Rico Civil Code.
(Reporting by Reuters in San Juan; Editing by David Adams and Bill Trott)