Affirmed: Appeals Court Upholds Decision Striking Down Prop 8
February 7th, 2012
A three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld (PDF:741KB/133 pages) Federal District Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling that found that California’s Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. The ruling was split 2-1. Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the majority:
Prior to November 4, 2008, the California Constition guaranteed the right to marry to opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples alike. On that day, the People of California adopted Proposition 8, wihc amended the state constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. We consider whether that amendment violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. We conclude that it does.
Although the Constitution permits communities to enact most laws they beleive to be desirable, it requires that there be at least a legitimate reasomn for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently. There was no suc hreason that Proposition 8 could have been anacted. Because under California statutory law, same-sex couples had all the rights of opposite sex-couples, regardless of their marital status, all paries agree that Proposition 8 had only one effect. It stripped same-sex couples of the ability they previously possessed to obtain from the State, or any other authorized party, an important right — the right to obtain and use the designation of ‘marriage’ to describe their relationship. Nothing more, nothing less. Proposition 8 therefore could not have been enacted to advance California’s interests in childrearing or responsible procreation, or it had no effect on the rights of same-sex coples to raise children or on the procreative practices of other couples. Nor did Proposition 8 have any effect on religious freedom or on parents’ rights to control their children’s education. It could not have been enacted to safeguard these liberties.
It appears to be the second-class “separate-but-equal” status of California’s domstic partnerships, coupled with the fact that same-sex couples once enjoyed a right that was taken away which together formed the basis of the Appeals Court’s ruling:
All that Proposition 8 accomplished was to take away from same-sex couples the right to be granted marriage licenses and thus legally to use the designation of ‘marriage,’ which symbolizes state legitimization and societal recognition of their committed relationships. Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and familes as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples. The Constitution simply does not allow for “laws of this sort” Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620,633
The Court clarified that their ruling is “unique and strictly limited” to California’s Prop 8. It has no bearing on marriage bans enacted in other states within the Ninth Circuit Court’s jurisdictional area. It should also be noted that the ruling does not answer the question of whether bans on same-sex marraiges are unconstituional. Instead, it says that under these circumstances in which the right was first granted and then withdrawn, and the manner in which it was done, that is what they find unconstitutional
On two other issues before the court, the rulings went as expected. The Appeals Court ruled that Prop 8 supporters do have standing to defend Prop 8 in court when the state of California choses not to do so, and the Court ruled that Federal District Judge Vaughn Walker was not obligated to recuse himself.
The rulings on the questons of standing and recusal were unanimous. However Judge N.R. Smith dissented on the queston of whether Prop 8 was unconstitutional.
The current stay on Judge Walker’s original ruling remains in effect for at least another week. Prop 8 proponents are almost certain to file a motion to extend the stay, and that motion is likely to be granted pending further appeals.