Illustration: Louis Scott
In a sweeping and historic decision, a federal judge in San Francisco has announced that California's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. The ruling crushed several arguments posed by proponents of the ban.
The announcement was made on Wednesday afternoon as pro-LGBT rights rallies erupted in San Francisco and across the country.
Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled that Proposition 8, a memorandum approved by California voters in Nov. 2008, violates the US constitution by denying same-sex couples the right to marry. Proponents of Proposition 8 have already prepared to file an appeal.
The ruling states that Proposition 8 violates due process and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.
"Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license," Vaughn wrote in his sweeping ruling against the ban. "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."
The ruling went far beyond simply striking down Proposition 8, and the court's findings set several important precedents that are expected to reverberate throughout the appeals process. The ruling cuts through arguments made by Proposition 8 proponents, stating that their claims were based on "stereotypes assuming gays are inferior."
The ruling affirms that same-sex marriage does not endanger heterosexual marriage, and recognizes the legitimacy of gay, lesbian and bisexual identities by establishing that sexual orientation is a "fundamental identity and a distinguishing characteristic that defines gays and lesbians as a distinct group."
It also acknowledges that the children of gay couples can benefit from their parent's marriage, and that, despite pro-family arguments from Proposition 8 proponents, the ban would only disadvantage both parents and children.
The ruling also recognizes that the same-sex unions offered in California violate due process by only offering a "substitute and inferior institution that denies marriage to same-sex couples."
During the case, attorneys representing the State of California argued that, as a state-sanctioned union, the state and its voters have both the interest and right to decide who can be married. They argued that thousands of years of cross-cultural human tradition shows that marriage is an institution designed to promote procreation and a stable family environment, and gay marriage threatens this tradition, which is "fundamental to the survival of the race."
According to Vaughn, such thinking is a thing of the past.
"The evidence did not show any historical purpose for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, as states have never required spouses to have an ability or willingness to procreate in order to marry," Vaughn wrote in his ruling. "Rather, the exclusion exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage. That time has passed."
The ruling has already turned heads in Washington, where the effort to repeal the anti-gay marriage Defense of Marriage Act continues.
In response to an inquiry from Metro Weekly about whether there would be a presidential response to today's ruling striking down Proposition 8, White House spokesman Shin Inouye responded, "The President has spoken out in opposition to Proposition 8 because it is divisive and discriminatory. He will continue to promote equality for LGBT Americans."
Legislators are also chiming in.
"Today's court ruling on Proposition 8 is a powerful declaration for those of us who believe in equal protection for all Americans," Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) said in a release. "This affirmation of marriage equality in our nation's most populous state shows, once again, that laws preventing same-sex couples from marrying serve no legitimate purpose, and that efforts to deprive gay men and lesbians of fundamental rights and to single them out for discrimination are anathema to our constitutional system."
Nadler, who chairs a House subcommittee on civil liberties, pointed out that Vaughn's ruling recognizes that LGBT Americans deserve the same rights as heterosexuals and are just as capable of entering into committed, healthy marriages.
"Same-sex couples have happy, satisfying relationships and form deep emotional bonds and strong commitments to their partners," Vaughn wrote. "Love [does] not differ depending on whether a couple is same-sex or opposite-sex."
Last spring the American Foundation for Equal Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of two gay couples whose marriage plans were canceled by Proposition 8.
Attorneys Theodore Olson and David Boies argued on behalf of the plaintiffs that Proposition 8 violates basic constitutional rights, denies Americans basic liberties and harms both parents and children without due process. This "disfavored" legal status singles out LGBT people as "second class citizens," according to the American Foundation for Equal Rights.
Olsen and Bois argued against each other in Bush v. Gore, the case that decided that 2000 election.
Plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Steir have been together for ten years and are the parents of four boys. Partners Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo joined Perry and Steir in challenging Proposition 8, which denied both couples the right to marry.
"I want to marry Sandy. I want to have a stable and secure relationship with her that then we can include our children in," Perry testified during the trial. "And I want the discrimination we are feeling with Proposition 8 to end and for a more positive, joyful part of our lives to begin."
Vaughn heard three weeks of arguments in January, which ranged from heated to lighthearted as expert witnesses, Proposition 8 proponents and hopeful gay couples debated the legitimacy of LGBT families. Final arguments were presented in June.