A Big Victory for Fundamental American Values
In a huge victory for equality, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that California’s Proposition 8, which rescinded marriage equality, was unconstitutional. A federal district court had previously also thrown the ban out on constitutional grounds.
Here’s the rundown on today’s big news.
What the Court Ruled On:
- Should the lower court judge have recused himself simply because he happens to be gay and may wish to marry his partner, as marriage equality opponents contended: NO.
- Do the proponents of Proposition 8 have the legal right, known as standing, to defend it in court: YES. (The original defendants in the case, the governor and attorney general of California, had refused to continue defending Proposition 8.)
- Is Proposition 8 constitutional: NO.
What the Court Said:
In a 2 to 1 ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed Judge Walker’s decision declaring that Proposition 8 violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution. From Judge Stephen Reinhardt’s majority opinion:
– All Proposition 8 accomplished was to take away from same-sex couples the right to be granted marriage licenses and thus legally to use the designation of ‘marriage,’ which symbolizes state legitimation and social recognition of their committed relationships. Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples. The Constitution simply does not allow for “laws of this sort.”
– The People may not employ the initiative power to single out a disfavored group for unequal treatment and strip them, without a legitimate justification, of a right as important as the right to marry.
– That designation [of marriage] is important because ‘marriage’ is the name that society gives to the relationship that matters most between two adults. A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but to the couple desiring to enter into a committed lifelong relationship, a marriage by the name of ‘registered domestic partnership’ does not.
– A law that has no practical effect except to stip one group of the right to use a state-authorized and socially meaningful designation is all the more “unprecedented” and “unusual” than a law that imposes broader changes, and raises an even stronger “interference that the disadvantage imposed is born of animosity toward the class of persons affected.”
What the Ruling Means: Good News for California, Bad News for Alabama
ThinkProgress Justice Editor Ian Milhiser writes about the implications of the Court’s narrowing rule:
In other words, the court finds a constitutional violation that is unique to the state of California — only California once extended equal marriage rights to gay couples, then yanked them away through a subsequent amendment.
There are two upshots to this California-specific reasoning. The first is that it reduces the likelihood that the Supreme Court will hear the case, although Supreme Court review remains very highly likely. Had the Ninth Circuit applied Judge Walker’s much broader reasoning, the implication would be that every single state has a constitutional obligation to marry gay couples. The justices typically hear cases that present an exceptionally important legal question of national importance, and such a broad decision would certainly qualify. Today’s decision, by contrast, is narrow enough that there is an off chance the justices could pass on it.
The other upshot is that today’s opinion gives an out to the justices in case a majority of them find Prop 8 constitutionally offensive but aren’t yet ready to kick off a political firestorm by ordering Alabama to marry same-sex couples. The opinion is, at its heart, a decision that discretion is the better part of valor, and that the Constitution is best served by banking an easier victory today and putting off the big fight until tomorrow. Gay couples in Alabama — and indeed the Constitution itself — may suffer longer for that decision, but today’s decision also maximizes the likelihood that Proposition 8 will stay dead.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney:
I don’t have a comment on litigation in general and in this litigation to which we are not a party. Beyond that, I can say that the President has long opposed, as you know, divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi:
As this battle moves through the appeals process, we must, and will, continue the fight for the fundamental rights of LGBT couples and every American. We will keep up the charge for change and equality in state legislatures and in the courts, and work in Congress to repeal and overturn the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. Together, we will make every discriminatory marriage amendment and law a thing of the past.
National Organization for Marriage Education Fund Executive Director Brian Brown:
We MUST have the resources to put on the best possible defense. And that is why NOM is so committed to helping fund the legal defense of Prop 8 and defend marriage laws all across the country. We have already given over $300,000 to help defend Prop 8 in court.
We need your immediate help, so please click here to make a gift to the NOM Legal Defense Fund right away.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins:
This ruling substitutes judicial tyranny for the will of the people, who in the majority of states have amended their constitutions, as California did, to preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
However, we remain confident that in the end, the Supreme Court will reject the absurd argument that the authors of our Constitution created or even implied a ‘right’ to homosexual ‘marriage,’ and will instead uphold the right of the people to govern themselves.
Today, unelected judges cast aside the will of the people of California who voted to protect traditional marriage. This decision does not end this fight, and I expect it to go to the Supreme Court. That prospect underscores the vital importance of this election and the movement to preserve our values. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman and, as president, I will protect traditional marriage and appoint judges who interpret the Constitution as it is written and not according to their own politics and prejudices.
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