Prop 8 overturned: Freedom to marry ban struck down in California

Posted by Sam Stein on

"In a major victory for gay rights activists, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday that a voter initiative banning the freedom to marry in California violated the Constitution's equal protection and due process rights clauses.

"After a five-month wait, 9th Circuit District Court Judge Vaughn Walker offered a 136-page decision in the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, firmly rejecting Proposition 8, which was passed by voters in November 2008.

"'Although Proposition 8 fails to possess even a rational basis, the evidence presented at trial shows that gays and lesbians are the type of minority strict scrutiny was designed to protect,' Walker ruled.

"Plaintiffs do not seek recognition of a new right. To characterize plaintiffs' objective as 'the right to marriage equality' would suggest that plaintiffs seek something different from what opposite-sex couples across the state enjoy -- namely, marriage. Rather, plaintiffs ask California to recognize their relationships for what they are: marriages.'

"'Proposition 8 places the force of law behind stigmas against gays and lesbians, including: gays and lesbians do not have intimate relationships similar to heterosexual couples; gays and lesbians are not as good as heterosexuals; and gay and lesbian relationships do not deserve the full recognition of society.'

"The judgment was the first offered by a federal court with respect to laws banning the freedom to marry at the state level and it promises to have massive reverberations across the political and judicial landscape. The decision is now expected to head to the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court (also based in San Francisco) for appeal and from there to the Supreme Court.

"In the interim, however, Walker's ruling gave gay-rights activists a second occasion to rejoice in less than a month. In July, a federal judge in Massachusetts ruled that the [so-called] federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as one man and one woman, was also unconstitutional.

... "In deciding the case, Walker offered a variety of findings that may be as important as the ruling itself. Among them were the following:

  • 'Sexual orientation is commonly discussed as a characteristic of the individual. Sexual orientation is fundamental to a person's identity and is a distinguishing characteristic that defines gays and lesbians as a discrete group. Proponents' assertion that sexual orientation cannot be defined is contrary to the weight of the evidence.'
  • 'Individuals do not generally choose their sexual orientation. No credible evidence supports a finding that an individual may, through conscious decision, therapeutic intervention or any other method, change his or her sexual orientation.'
  • 'Same-sex couples are identical to opposite-sex couples in the characteristics relevant to the ability to form successful marital unions. Like opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples have happy, satisfying relationships and form deep emotional bonds and strong commitments to their partners. Standardized measures of relationship satisfaction, relationship adjustment and love do not differ depending on whether a couple is same-sex or opposite-sex.'
  • 'Marrying a person of the opposite sex is an unrealistic option for gay and lesbian individuals.'
  • 'Same-sex couples receive the same tangible and intangible benefits from marriage that opposite-sex couples receive.'
  • 'The availability of domestic partnership does not provide gays and lesbians with a status equivalent to marriage because the cultural meaning of marriage and its associated benefits are intentionally withheld from same-sex couples in domestic partnerships.'
  • 'Permitting same-sex couples to marry will not affect the number of opposite-sex couples who marry, divorce, cohabit, have children outside of marriage or otherwise affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages.'

"Perhaps the most important political finding that Walker made was his conclusion that the fact that Prop 8 passed as a voter initiative was irrelevant as 'fundamental rights may not be submitted to [a] vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.'"


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