Supporters of same-sex marriage in the Southland and across the state scored a major victory today when a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Proposition 8, the voter-approved ban on same-sex weddings, was unconstitutional.
The 2-1 decision, however, will likely be appealed to either the full 9th Circuit Court or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite the court ruling today, a stay on gay marriages in California will remain in effect while the court case continues.
According to the court panel's ruling, the proposition's primary impact was to "lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California."
"It stripped same-sex couples of the ability they previously possessed to obtain and use the designation of 'marriage' to describe their relationships,'" according to the court's decision. "Nothing more, nothing less. Proposition 8 therefore could not have been enacted to advance California's interests in child-rearing or responsible procreation, for it had no effect on the rights of same-sex couples to raise children or on the procreative practices of other couples.
"Nor did Proposition 8 have any effect on religious freedom or on parents' rights to control their children's education; it could not have been enacted to safeguard those liberties."
The case had been pending before the appellate court for months, including a delay while it awaited a ruling from the state Supreme Court on whether proponents of Proposition 8 had legal standing to appeal the issue. The Supreme Court eventually said they do.
Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica) released a statement "rejoicing" the appeal court's recognition "that people cannot use the initiative process to deny basic rights like that of marriage to a class of people they find objectionable."
In March 2000, California voters approved Prop. 22, which specified in state law that only marriages between a man and a woman are valid in California. But in May of 2008, the state Supreme Court ruled the law was unconstitutional because it discriminated against gays, and an estimated 18,000 same-sex couples got married in the ensuing months. Opponents of same-sex marriage quickly got Prop. 8 on the November 2008 ballot to amend the state constitution, and it was approved by a margin of 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent.
The approval was followed by statewide protests and lawsuits challenging Prop. 8's legality. In May 2009, the California Supreme Court upheld Prop. 8, but also ruled that the unions of roughly 18,000 same-sex couples who were wed in 2008 would remain valid. Same-sex marriage supporters took their case to federal court, and U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled in August 2010 that Proposition 8 "both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation."
Backers of Proposition 8—ProtectMarriage.com—appealed to the 9th Circuit, because then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and then-Attorney General Jerry Brown declined to do so. The appellate court heard arguments last year, but put a decision on hold while it awaited the state Supreme Court's ruling on the ability of Prop. 8 backers to press the case forward.
Once the state Supreme Court decided that Prop. 8 supporters had legal standing, the 9th Circuit moved ahead with its consideration of the case, hearing more arguments in December on a motion by Prop. 8 backers asking that Vaughn's ruling be thrown out because the judge was in a long-term same-sex relationship that he had not disclosed. ProtectMarriage.com attorney Andy Pugno has said that California voters who supported Proposition 8 should not be invalidated "based on just one judge's opinion."
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, the first openly gay man to serve on the body, said he was elated by the decision.
"It gives Californians the respect that they should be getting," he said. "We don't have a our basic civil and human rights in our relationships. We don't get the IRS benefits. We don't get Social Security benefits. We don't have any of those benefits that are codified in Washington."
Lorrie L. Jean, chief executive officer of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, said, "We are one step closer to the day the freedom to marry will ring in California once again. "This draws nearer the day when every American will be able to marry the person they love, regardless of gender—and to have that important commitment recognized by the law of the land," she said. "Having that commitment honored is no small thing.''
— City News Service