A federal appeals court ruled the 2008 Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage, unconstitutional yesterday. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 against the proposition. Those in support of the ban are expected to appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court or first ask for a review by a larger panel of the appeals court.
The decision upholds the 2010 ruling by U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker that the ban violates gay individuals’ equal protection and due process rights.
“By using their initiative power to target a minority group and withdraw a right that it possessed, without a legitimate reason for doing so, the people of California violated the Equal Protection Clause,” the majority wrote in a statement. “We hold Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional on this ground.”
ProtectMarriage.com carried the appeal forward after former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and then-Attorney General Jerry Brown, now governor, declined to defend the ban in court. The California Supreme Court ruled in November 2011 that proponents of ballot initiatives could defend the measures themselves in such cases.
The majority, in an opinion written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, stated they ruled the gay marriage ban unconstitutional because it stripped gay and lesbian people in California of a right they previously enjoyed.
“Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples,” the ruling stated.
The judges did not consider the broader question of whether gay and lesbian couples may ever be denied the right to be married.
Courtney Joslin, a UC Davis law professor who co-authored an amicus brief that was filed on behalf of 28 California family law professors in the litigation challenging Proposition 8, said it is unclear what will happen in the next stage of the process to review gay marriage and that the Supreme Court does not even have to accept the review.
“The [appeals] court did so in a fairly narrow way; the ruling only directly addresses circumstances of California,” she said. “It didn’t address the question if excluding same-sex marriage generally violates the constitution.”
In a dissenting opinion, Judge N. Randy Smith said he was not convinced the state had no legitimate interest in Proposition 8. He argued for judicial restraint when intervening in legislative enactments.