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Prop. 8 ruled unconstitutional
Same-sex marriage opponents seek stay of decision
prop 8 pic
Cynthia Soto raises her hand in triumphant celebration of her marriage to lesbian partner Beth Holden in June 2008. The couple's ceremony was among the first same-sex marriages in Stanislaus County. - photo by Journal file photo

Same-sex couples have just as much right to get married as heterosexual couples, according to a decision rendered Wednesday in U.S. District Court.


The ruling, issued by U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, would overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriages. More than 52 percent of California voters approved that ban in the Nov. 4, 2008 election, when Proposition 8 was passed to change the California Constitution to only recognize marriages between a man and a woman.


 “Today, a single federal judge has negated the will of the people of California,” said Charles Cooper, lead counsel for Proposition 8.


Walker ruled that Prop. 8 is unconstitutional under both the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution, as it violates constitutional rights to equality.


“Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license,” Walker wrote in the ruling. “Indeed the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.”


More than 18,000 same-sex couples are already married in California, stemming from a May 2008 California Supreme Court ruling which briefly allowed gays and lesbians to marry. Prop. 8 overturned that ruling in November 2008, and was upheld by the California Supreme Court in May 2009, though the state high court did not consider concerns that the U.S. Constitution may be violated by the proposition.


The U.S. District Court decision was lauded by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday as a step on the road to equality and freedom for all people.

 “For the hundreds of thousands of Californians in gay and lesbian households who are managing their day-to-day lives, this decision affirms the full legal protections and safeguards I believe everyone deserves,” Schwarzenegger said. “At the same time, it provides an opportunity for all Californians to consider our history of leading the way to the future, and our growing reputation of treating all people and their relationships with equal respect and dignity.” Resumption of same-sex marriage awaits decision on stay

While Walker wrote in his 136-page decision that same-sex marriages should resume immediately, the Prop. 8 legal defense team filed a preemptive request for a stay of that decision, pending an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.


The Prop. 8 legal defense team believes the legal status of same-sex married couples could be left in doubt if the practice resumes immediately, should the appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Walker’s decision.


“A stay is essential to averting the harms that would flow from another purported window of same-sex marriage in California," they wrote in the motion.


Such a stay will only be issued if Walker believes the defense team may succeed in an appeal, that a stay will irreparably injure Prop. 8 supporters or opponents, and that a stay is in the best public interest. If Walker does not grant the stay, Prop. 8 lawyers will likely ask the appeals court for an emergency order to stop same-sex marriages.


Both Schwarzenegger and state Attorney General Jerry Brown’s offices filed motions on Friday urging denial of the stay request, and voicing the state’s ability to immediately resume issuing same-sex marriage licenses.


“The Administration believes the public interest is best served by permitting the Court’s judgment to go into effect, thereby restoring the right of same-sex couples to marry in California,” Schwarzenegger’s motion reads. “Doing so is consistent with California’s long history of treating all people and their relationships with equal dignity and respect.”

 Walker’s ruling on the stay request is expected in the coming days.To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.