Love Rules: California Same-Sex Marriage Ban Declared Unconstitutional

NEW YORK | Tuesday, February 7th, 2012 11:21pm EDT

Same-sex marriage moved one step closer to the Supreme Court on Tuesday when a federal appeals court ruled California’s ban unconstitutional, saying it serves no purpose other than to “lessen the status and human dignity” of gays.

California Gay Marriage Ban Declared Unconstitutional 01

An appeals court on Tuesday found California's gay marriage ban unconstitutional in a case that may lead to a showdown in the Supreme Court. Photo: Rachel So/Flickr

A U.S. federal appeals court on Tuesday declared California’s same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional, putting the bitterly contested, voter-approved law on track for a likely appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, reports CBC.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that a lower court judge correctly interpreted the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court precedents when he declared in 2010 that Proposition 8 — a response to an earlier state court decision that legalized gay marriage — was a violation of the civil rights of gays and lesbians.

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 as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples,” the ruling reads.

“It means we are included in the American Dream,” said Joe Capley-Alfano, who married his husband, Frank, in the summer of 2008, a window of legal same-sex marriage in California.

According to Reuters, the majority in the 2-1 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that California’s Proposition 8 ban did not further “responsible procreation,” which was at the heart of the argument by the ban’s supporters.

The ban known as Proposition 8 was approved by voters in 2008 with 52 percent of the vote. The court said it was unconstitutional because it singled out a minority group for disparate treatment for no compelling reason.

“Had Marilyn Monroe’s film been called `How to Register a Domestic Partnership with a Millionaire,’ it would not have conveyed the same meaning as did her famous movie, even though the underlying drama for same-sex couples is no different,” the court said, according to The Huff Post.

Opponents of gay marriage planned to ask the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling, which came more than a year after the appeals court panel heard arguments in the case.

“No court should presume to redefine marriage. No court should undercut the democratic process by taking the power to preserve marriage out of the hands of the people,” said Brian Raum, senior counsel for the Alliance Defence Fund, a Christian legal aid group based in Arizona that helped defend Proposition 8.

“We are not surprised that this Hollywood-orchestrated attack on marriage — tried in San Francisco — turned out this way. But we are confident that the expressed will of the American people in favor of marriage will be upheld at the Supreme Court,” he said.

Douglas NeJaime, an associate professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the California-specific scope of the 9th Circuit panel’s decision means the Supreme Court can uphold it without ruling “on marriage for same-sex couples on a national scale.”

“In effect, the 9th Circuit’s decision allows the Supreme Court to continue the incremental, case-by-case trajectory of marriage for same-sex couples in the United States,” NeJaime said in an email.

About 40 of the 50 U.S. states had outlawed gay marriage before a California state court ruled in 2008 that a ban was unconstitutional, leading to a summer of gay marriages. But California voters that November decided to change the state constitution to limit marriage to a man and woman.

California voters passed Proposition 8 with 52 per cent 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.

Six states – New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa – allow gay marriage, as does Washington, D.C. In addition, about 18,000 same-sex couples married in California during the summer of legalization in 2008, and their unions are valid regardless of the outcome of the Prop 8 case.

New Jersey, Maryland and Washington state are considering legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, and gay rights activists in Maine say they plan to bring the issue to voters in a referendum in that state.

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