Federal judge rules Prop. 8 same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional
(8/4) — UPDATED 18:37 PDT — SAN FRANCISCO — California’s voter-approved Proposition 8, which defines marriage exclusively as a union between a man and a woman, violates the United States Constitution, a U.S. District Court judge ruled Wednesday afternoon.
In a sweeping decision, posted online Wednesday afternoon, Judge Vaughn Walker soundly rejected all of the arguments that same-sex marriage opponents presented, saying “Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.”
Walker, however, stayed his ruling, preventing same-sex marriage licenses from being issued immediately.
- RELATED: Prop. 8 backers, opponents agree legal fight just beginning
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- READ THE RULING: Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California), (California Beat copy)
- SEE THE EVIDENCE: Videos and documents in evidence in Perry v. Schwarzenegger
Supporters of the proposition argued that the initiative did not violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, and that allowing same-sex marriage would jeopardize family values and procreation.
In his ruling today, Walker disagreed, saying that Proposition 8 violates both the due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution by denying gays and lesbians the right to marry a member of the same sex.
“Proposition 8 both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation,” Walker wrote.
Rejecting Proposition 8 backers’ procreation argument, Walker wrote, “never has the state inquired into procreative capacity or intent before issuing a marriage license.”
Walker said domestic partnerships were not a substitute for marriage, calling them “a substitute and inferior institution that denies marriage to same-sex couples.”
Walker also rejected same-sex marriage opponents’ argument that the state has a right to preserve traditional marriage through the law, saying “tradition alone [...] cannot form a rational basis for a law.”
And Walker said that Proposition 8 backers had not presented enough evidence at trial to show that same-sex marriages would weaken families or the institution of marriage.
Walker called the fact that Proposition 8 passed with majority support from voters “irrelevant,” quoting a 1943 Supreme Court decision which said “fundamental rights may not be submitted to [a] vote.”
Supporters, opponents, officials react to ruling
Gay marriage opponents blasted the ruling. Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, called Walker “completely biased” and said that the ruling “creates out of thin air” a right to same-sex marriage.
Meanwhile, Equality California, a group supporting same-sex marriage, released a statement on its website praising the ruling.
“We are thrilled with today’s ruling, which affirms that the protections enshrined in our U.S. Constitution apply to all Americans and that our dream of equality and freedom deserves protection,” wrote the group’s executive director, Geoffrey Kors.
Joining many public officials in the state issuing statements praising the ruling, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said “this decision affirms the full legal protections and safeguards I believe everyone deserves.”
And San Francisco Mayor and state lieutenant governor candidate Gavin Newsom, who in 2004 ordered the city to issue same-sex marriage licenses before being stopped by a state court, called the ruling “a major victory for equal rights” on Twitter.
But the California Republican Party issued a one-sentence statement saying “The California Republican Party is firm in its support of traditional marriage and looks forward to the matter being resolved in a higher court.”
Many same-sex marriage supporters had gathered by 5 p.m. Wednesday evening, with thousands marching toward San Francisco Civic Center Plaza for a 6:45 p.m. rally near City Hall.
At Harvey Milk’s old camera shop in the Castro District, many passers-by had heard the ruling.
“I’ve been in a relationship for ten years, and I haven’t been able to live like I have been in one,” said Belmont resident Chevin Scheib. “I’m excited because everyone should be equal.”
“I think that was the expected outcome,” said Rachel Paine Caufield, an Iowa resident and professor of political science at Drake University visiting San Francisco on vacation. “It is the first time that we saw Republican and Democratic attorneys come together to challenge the ban,” she said, referring to plaintiffs’ attorneys Theodore Olson and David Boies, who were on opposing sides in the Florida recount dispute in the 2000 presidential election.
Elsewhere in the Castro, Sydney King, a New York City resident, said she was now in a relationship with another woman after having been married to a man. “It’s exactly the same to be married to a man than it is to be married to a woman. It’s just we use more toilet paper,” she said.
Long legal battle lies ahead
Proposition 8 supporters have already begun planning for an appeal of Walker’s decision, which would be heard by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The case is expected to eventually be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
And while Walker’s ruling ordered state officials to immediately begin granting same-sex marriage licenses, he issued a separate order staying his ruling at the request of Proposition 8′s backers. Same-sex marriage supporters will have until Friday to file a response to a request for a longer stay.
The move resulted in a crowd of same-sex couples who had gathered at San Francisco City Hall hoping to be issued marriage licenses being turned away.
Contact Steven Luo at email@example.com.