Same-sex marriage is one step closer to a return to California, following a Tuesday federal appeals court decision that banning the practice violates the U.S. Constitution.
Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, unconstitutionally denied same-sex couples of their previously-granted right to marriage, the court found.
“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 and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples,” wrote Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Michael Daly Hawkins in their 128 page decision.
The 2-1 decision by a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Appeals Court upheld a 2010 decision by former Chief U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker, who found Prop 8 unconstitutional. The appeals court also declined to invalidate Walker's ruling because he is openly gay.
The 9th Circuit Court ruling, narrow in its scope, applies only to California's specific situation. The court makes no assertion whether or not the U.S. Constitution allows for same-sex couples to ever be denied the right to marriage.
Though Proposition 8 doesn't restrict same-sex couples from enjoying all the rights of marriage under the title “domestic partnership,” it does restrict the use of the term “marriage” to unions between a man and woman. But because California extended the right of “marriage” to same-sex couples for six months in 2008, after the State Supreme Court ruled banning same-sex marriage violated the California Constitution, Prop 8's sole effect was deemed to be revoking that “important and legally significant designation.”
Citing past case law and the Equal Protection Clause, the court found that fundamental rights, once recognized, cannot be denied to particular groups solely due to historical tradition.
And that unique status of “marriage” is different from the rights conveyed through marriage, the court found.
“Certainly, it would not have the same effect to see 'Will you enter into a registered domestic partnership with me?'” the court wrote.
Dissenting Judge N. Randy Smith argued that Prop 8 was constitutional, in that regulating “immoral and unacceptable” behavior like incest and bestiality is constitutionally allowable. He also said governments have the right to encourage procreation by allowing only opposite-sex couples to marry.
Proposition 8 sponsors ProtectMarriage said Tuesday it will appeal the 9th Circuit Court decision. But because of the narrow ruling, it remains uncertain if the U.S. Supreme Court will review the case. ProtectMarriage also has the option of appealing the decision to a larger panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Until that appeal is completed, same-sex marriages will remain on hold in California.
Despite the continued stay on same-sex marriage, Tuesday's decision came as “most excellent news” to Manual Alvarado, president of the Stanislaus PRIDE Center Board of Directors and president of the GLEE Foundation of California.
“I'm proud to say, and I'm happy to say our forefathers had the foresight to put in the Constitution that all men are created equal. Not that all heterosexual men are created equal,” Alvarado said.
Marriage isn't just a religious ceremony, Alvarado said, it's a civil right, already being conferred in six American states. And though traditionally progressive, California doesn't allow for same-sex marriage yet, Alvarado hopes it’s just a matter of time.
“I am optimistic that our gay and lesbian and transgender brothers and sisters will one day be able to be equal, fair, and just in everyone's eyes,” Alvarado said.
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