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Court Rules California’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Above: At an anti-Prop 8 rally before the Feb. 7, 2012 hearing.

A federal appeals court has declared California's same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional, paving the way for a likely U.S. Supreme Court showdown on the voter-approved law.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled 2-1 Tuesday that a lower court judge interpreted the U.S. Constitution correctly in 2010 when he declared the ban, known as Proposition 8, to be a violation of the civil rights of gays and lesbians.

An opponent of Prop 8 wears a gay pride flag as he dances in front of Prop 8 supporters outside of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on December 6, 2010 in San Francisco, California.
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Above: An opponent of Prop 8 wears a gay pride flag as he dances in front of Prop 8 supporters outside of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on December 6, 2010 in San Francisco, California.

The California court ruled in November that the state's vigorous citizens' initiative process grants official proponents of ballot measures the right to defend their measures in court if state officials refuse to do so.

Supporters of Proposition 8, the California measure that restricts legal marriage to heterosexual couples, stand between opponents of the measure in San Francisco in August during one of the many legal proceedings in the case.
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Above: Supporters of Proposition 8, the California measure that restricts legal marriage to heterosexual couples, stand between opponents of the measure in San Francisco in August during one of the many legal proceedings in the case.

Further complicating the case was a move in April by lawyers for the coalition of conservative religious groups that put Proposition 8 on the ballot to have the trial court ruling struck down because the now-retired judge who issued it was in a long-term relationship with another man.

Former Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker disclosed he was gay and had a partner of 10 years after he retired from the bench last year. Proposition 8 backers have argued that Walker's relationship posed a potential conflict-of-interest and that he should have revealed it before he declared the measure unconstitutional in August 2010.

It was the first instance of an American jurist's sexual orientation being cited as grounds for overturning a court decision. Walker's successor as the chief federal judge in Northern California, James Ware, rejected claims that Walker was unqualified to preside over the 13-day trial. The 9th Circuit held a hearing on that question in December.

People rally in front of the California Supreme Court Building after arguments were heard for and against Proposition 8 March 5, 2009 in San Francisco, California.
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Above: People rally in front of the California Supreme Court Building after arguments were heard for and against Proposition 8 March 5, 2009 in San Francisco, California.

Some legal observers believe the written heads-up the court gave Monday indicates it concluded there is no reason Walker should have disclosed his relationship status while he had the case.

California voters passed Proposition 8 with 52 percent of the vote in November 2008, five months after the state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage by striking down a pair of laws that had limited marriage to a man and a woman.

The ballot measure inserted the one man-one woman provision into the state Constitution, thereby overruling the court's decision. It was the first such ban to take away marriage rights from same-sex couples after they had already secured them.

The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and the Law, a think tank based at the University of California, Los Angeles, has estimated that 18,000 couples tied the knot during the four-month window before Proposition 8 took effect. The California Supreme Court upheld those marriages but ruled that voters had properly enacted the law.

"The circumstances in California are unprecedented. The state Supreme Court found marriage equality to be a right of the highest order under the state Constitution, and thousands of couples actually exercised that right before a discriminatory initiative took it away," Wolff said. "The federal courts would do well to focus their attention on those unique circumstances, which would support a ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional while leaving the situation in other states for another day."

Comments

Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | February 7, 2012 at 10:37 a.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

I knew it would be, especially coming after what happened in Washington.

So the California voter votes on something only to have it struck down a few years later--for the second time? What, pray tell, was my vote worth in 2000 and 2008 then, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals? The one difference is that it didn't take them as long with Prop 8 as they did with Prop 22.

There has to be a better way to screen propositions before they get to the point of bogging down in expensive litigation. And furthermore, what does this say for the future of ballot propositions?

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | February 7, 2012 at 11:19 a.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

Mission, I fully agree with you that the culprit here is the state officials that allowed this this to be voted on in the first place, constitutional protections are not up for vote.

When California struck down banning interracial marriages, it ruled that ban was unconstitutional as well. Polls showed a majority of California's voters supported a ban on interracial marriage, but the court struck it down as violating the state constitution.

If we allow EVERYTHING to be up for a vote, including our constitutional protections, then we will go down a pretty destructive road as a nation.

I hope this does revamp our ballot process, it is out of control.

Our representative form of government is based on electing people who spend their careers examining issues, looking at all sides, and meeting with all relevant parties to form logical laws backed by facts and not hysteria.

When we have ballot measures, very few people research the issues in all their complexity the way elected officials are supposed to. In fact, millions of people vote on a proposition based on the title alone.

And it's a myth that ballot measures are a true form of democracy where each person has an equal say.

Like other forms of politics, proposition measures are clearly won or lost based on money.

A correlation exists between spending more and being able to advertise more and winning a measure.

In terms of gay marriage, I hope this decision will allow marriage equality to resume as we wait to see if the SCOTUS will listen to this. I also hope the SCOTUS' conservative activists (Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, and Alito) will realize that if they vote in favor of proposition 8 they are setting dangerous precedence in allowing hate groups to fund votes to take away people's civil liberties.

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Avatar for user 'TheKindGardenersCollective'

TheKindGardenersCollective | February 7, 2012 at 1:56 p.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

Wonder how a kid turns out when raised by a couple Lesbians?
(watch here!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSQQK2...

Some say that "Love Makes A Family"... NOT a paired penis/vagina.

http://front.moveon.org/the-holiday-family-video-every-american-needs-to-see/#.TvTNwesWXuw.facebook

How 'bout we focus on something important, like how to get along and not rape this planet?

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