San Juan: Puerto Rico said Friday it will no longer defend laws banning gay marriage in the US territory, in a major reversal for the socially conservative Caribbean island.
But Puerto Rico`s new stance does not officially legalize gay and lesbian marriages, a matter that will be decided by a pending appeals trial in the US court system.
"We`ve concluded that it`s neither fair nor correct... that marriage be only between a man and a woman," Justice Secretary Cesar Miranda told a press conference.
The government made the announcement as it informed the public that it would no longer challenge a case making its way through the US legal system brought by Puerto Rican gay couples demanding official recognition for their marriages.
"You have said `enough is enough,` the state cannot promote discrimination," Miranda said.
Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla said he had decided to reverse his administration`s decision, despite his Catholic background.
"Everyone knows my religious beliefs, but political leaders cannot impose their beliefs," he said.
"We are trying to advance civil and human rights with equal conditions for all citizens."
The decision was applauded by gay rights organizations and Puerto Ricans such as singer Ricky Martin, who came out as gay in 2010.
"Today is a great day for my island, my heart is jumping out of my chest. How proud I am to live in a country with equality. I love you Puerto Rico," he wrote in Spanish on Twitter.
The announcement "exceeded expectations," said Amarilis Pagan, spokeswoman for a coalition of gay rights groups.
Officially allowing gay marriage in Puerto Rico falls to an appeals court in Boston or the US Supreme Court, which is expected to rule in late April on whether same-sex marriage is allowed across the United States.
Same-sex marriage is now legal in 37 US states and the capital Washington, and banned in the remaining 13.