A federal judge on Wednesday struck down California‘s Proposition 8, the 2008 voter approved ban on gay marriage, ruling it “unconstitutional” and fails to “advance any rational basis” to deny gay men and lesbians a marriage license.
In his 136 page ruling, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker wrote:
“Plaintiffs challenge Proposition 8 under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Each challenge is independently meritorious, as Proposition 8 both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation.”
“Plaintiffs seek to have the state recognize their committed relationships, and plaintiffs’ relationships are consistent with the core of the history, tradition and practice of marriage in the United States.“
“Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians. The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite sex couples.”
Walker presided over a 13 day non-jury trial earlier this year on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the first in federal court to examine if states can prohibit gays from getting married without violating the U.S. constitutional guarantee of equality.
Walker’s decision is expected to be appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and then up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Attorneys for the Proposition 8 defense team, anticipating the decision against them, filed court papers Tuesday night, asking Walker for a stay of his ruling. The motion indicated that the Proposition 8 lawyers will immediately ask the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review the ruling.
In fact, within hours of handing down his decision, Walker issued a ruling granting a temporary stay of his order until Friday, allowing opponents of same-sex marriage time to file appeals, appearing to bar an immediate resumption of weddings between gays and lesbians in California.
To win a permanent stay pending appeal, Proposition 8 proponents must show that they are likely to prevail in the long run and that there would be irreparable harm if the ban is not enforced.
The trial was instigated by a lawsuit filed by two same-sex couples — Kristin Perry, Sandra Stier, Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo — who said that Proposition 8 violated their constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.
“For our entire lives, our government and the law have treated us as unequal. This decision to ensure that our constitutional rights are as protected as everyone else’s makes us incredibly proud of our country,” Perry said.
“Kris and I have raised four children, own a home and have professional careers. But because of Proposition 8, our family is still not complete. For us, equal rights are about our family having the recognition and protections that other families have,” Stier said.
“We just want to get married, just like our friends, family and relatives can. We are thankful to live in a nation of equal laws,” Katami said.
“We hope this decision brings us closer to the day when Americans no longer have to fight in court for the rights the Constitution says we all already have. We are grateful that the American Foundation for Equal Rights, Ted Olson and David Boies came together to fight for us, and millions of others, so that finally, every American will truly be equal under the law,” Zarrillo said.
The lawsuit, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, was initiated by the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), a nonprofit organization created to support the plaintiffs in the case. To represent the plaintiffs, AFER retained former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson and David Boies (who worked on opposite sides in Bush v. Gore, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that gave George W. Bush the presidency in 2000).
AFER was founded by political consultant Chad Griffin, and counts Hollywood powerhouses Bruce Cohen, Dustin Lance Black and Rob Reiner among its board members.
During the trial, Olson and Boies called 16 witnesses to testify against Proposition 8, including professors and historians from the nation’s top universities, experts in the fields of marriage, sociology and politics, and presented emotional testimony from gays and lesbians about why marriage mattered to them.
“Through its decision today, the court has acted in the best traditions of a legal system established to uphold the Constitution and the principles of equality upon which this nation was founded,” said attorney Theodore B. Olson. “On no less than 14 occasions, the Supreme Court has held that marriage is a fundamental right. This decision recognizes that Proposition 8 denied the plaintiffs, and tens-of-thousands of other Californians, that fundamental constitutional right and treated them unequally.”
“The Supreme Court has long held that marriage is a fundamental right. Equal protection under the law is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and this ruling affirms that universal right of every American,” plaintiff’s attorney David Boies said. “Depriving the fundamental right to marry causes grievous harm to millions of Americans and their children.”
The backers of Proposition 8 called only two witnesses, both of who made concessions under cross-examination that helped the plaintiff’s case.
Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriages in California five months after the state Supreme Court legalized them, passed with 52 percent of the vote in November 2008 following the most expensive campaign on a social issue in U.S. history.
Wednesday’s ruling comes just weeks after a federal court in Boston ruled that a key part of the government’s Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional and took away a state’s right to define marriage.
The ruling came after Massachusetts sued the federal government over the law, saying it forced the state to discriminate against its citizens.
Walker’s ruling is the first in the country to strike down a marriage ban based on federal constitutional grounds — previous cases have cited state constitutions.
More on the Prop 8 ruling, including reaction from both sides, from LGBTQ Nation as it develops.
For achived coverage on the trial, including opening and closing arguments and day-by-day reporting coverage during the trial, browse our extensive coverage here.