In a 2 to 1 decision, the three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals announced that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. The long-awaited ruling came down from the same court that stayed the decision handed down by US District Court Judge Vaughn Walker back in 2010. Walker oversaw the trial that challenged the constitutional amendment that barred lesbian and gay couples from marrying.
At the time, Walker wrote that “Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license.”
In fact, Walker wrote a very carefully constructed opinion on the subject. Supporters of the amendment presented next to no evidence that the measure had any value and was based on anything other than anti-LGBT bigotry. Walker, who came out officially after he retired, has been at the center of their attempts to try and get the ruling vacated due to the fact that he is gay. People have pointed out that, if Walker is ruled out for being gay, then any straight judge would have to be ruled out as well.
Walker’s sexuality was known very well long before he officially came out. Even those of us at LezGetReal knew that he was gay.
Supporters of Prop 8 can now appeal to the eleven panel Court of Appeals or they can appeal directly to the US Supreme Court. It is not clear how they would rule, or if they would even be willing to take this case.
Lambda Legal stated:
This is exciting news. It’s especially thrilling for those of us at Lambda Legal who remember our first efforts working toward legal recognition of our relationships nearly 20 years ago in Hawaii all the way through to our victories before the California Supreme Court in 2008 and the Iowa Supreme Court in 2009 and our ongoing lawsuit in New Jersey. The tide is not just turning; it has turned.
In the Prop 8 case, we joined our sister LGBT rights organizations National Center for Lesbian Rights, ACLU of Northern California and Equality California in filing friend-of-the-court briefs urging the Ninth Circuit to uphold the 2010 ruling, as well as the decision denying Prop 8 proponents’ attempt to vacate that ruling.
The Court stayed today’s decision, so same-sex couples in California will still have to wait before they can once again exercise their right to marry. And the ruling is likely to be appealed. Still, this is an enormous step toward marriage equality, not only for California, but for all Americans.
“Although the Constitution permits communities to enact most laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently. There was no such reason that Proposition 8 could have been enacted,” the ruling states.
The court crafted a narrow decision that applies only to California, even though the court has jurisdiction in nine western states. California is the only one of those states where the ability for gays to marry was granted then rescinded.
“Whether under the Constitution same-sex couples may ever be denied the right to marry, a right that has long been enjoyed by opposite-sex couples, is an important and highly controversial question,” the court said. “We need not and do not answer the broader question in this case.
The Transgender Law Center issued a statement saying “We’re thrilled that today the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed that under our constitution, all loving couples must be allowed to marry, regardless of the gender of either partner. The state should not be in the business of policing who can marry based on gender. I’m optimistic that full equality for all our families is on the horizon.”