SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A federal appeals court on Tuesday declared
California's same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional, putting
the bitterly contested, voter-approved law on track for a likely
appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
ruled 2-1 that a lower court judge correctly interpreted the U.S.
Constitution and Supreme Court precedents when he declared in 2010 that Proposition 8 - a response to an earlier state court decision
that legalized gay marriage - was a violation of the civil rights
of gays and lesbians.
However, the appeals court said gay marriages cannot resume in
the state until the deadline passes for Proposition 8 sponsors to
appeal to a larger panel of the 9th Circuit. If such an appeal is
filed, gay marriages will remain on hold until it's resolved.
"Although the Constitution permits communities to enact most
laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be at
least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats
different classes of people differently. There was no such reason
that Proposition 8 could have been enacted," the ruling states.
Backers of Proposition 8 said they would ask the Supreme Court
to overturn the 9th Circuit ruling.
"No court should presume to redefine marriage. No court should
undercut the democratic process by taking the power to preserve
marriage out of the hands of the people," said Brian Raum, senior
counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal aid group
based in Arizona that helped defend Proposition 8.
"We are not surprised that this Hollywood-orchestrated attack
on marriage - tried in San Francisco - turned out this way. But we
are confident that the expressed will of the American people in
favor of marriage will be upheld at the Supreme Court," he said.
American Foundation for Equal Rights President Chad Griffin, who
formed the group along with director Rob Reiner to wage the court
fight against Proposition 8, called the panel's ruling "a historic
"The message it sends to young LGBT people, not only here in
California but across the country, (is) that you can't strip away a
fundamental right, and gay marriage is a fundamental right that no
one can strip away," Griffin said. "Now that Proposition 8 has
been declared unconstitutional, the people of California will very
soon be able to once again realize their freedom to marry."
More than 50 people who gathered outside the federal courthouse
in downtown San Francisco greeted the ruling with cheers. They held
signs and waved rainbow flags.
"Today's ruling is a victory for fairness, a victory for
equality and a victory for justice," said California Attorney
General Kamala Harris.
The appeals panel crafted a narrow decision that applies only to
California, even though the court has jurisdiction in nine western
states. California is the only one of those states where the
ability for gays to marry was granted then rescinded.
"Whether under the Constitution same-sex couples may ever be
denied the right to marry, a right that has long been enjoyed by
opposite-sex couples, is an important and highly controversial
question," the court said. "We need not and do not answer the
broader question in this case."
The panel also said there was no evidence that former Chief U.S.
Judge Vaughn Walker was biased and should have disclosed before he issued his decision that he was gay and in a long-term relationship with another man.
The ruling came more than a year after the appeals court heard
arguments in the case.
Proposition 8 backers had asked the 9th Circuit to set aside
Walker's ruling on both constitutional grounds and because of the
thorny issue of the judge's personal life. It was the first
instance of an American jurist's sexual orientation being cited as
grounds for overturning a court decision.
Walker publicly revealed he was gay after he retired. However,
supporters of the gay marriage ban argued that he had been obliged
to previously reveal if he wanted to marry his partner - like the
gay couples who sued to overturn the ban.
Walker's successor as the chief federal judge in Northern
California, James Ware, rejected those claims, and the 9th Circuit
held a hearing on the conflict-of-interest question in December.
California voters passed Proposition 8 with 52 percent of the
vote in November 2008, five months after the state Supreme Court
legalized same-sex marriage by striking down a pair of laws that
had limited marriage to a man and a woman.
The ballot measure inserted the one man-one woman provision into
the California Constitution, thereby overruling the court's
decision. It was the first such ban to take away marriage rights
from same-sex couples after they had already secured them and its
passage followed the most expensive campaign on a social issue in
the nation's history.
The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and the Law, a
think tank based at the University of California, Los Angeles, has
estimated that 18,000 couples tied the knot during the four-month
window before Proposition 8 took effect. The California Supreme
Court upheld those marriages, but ruled that voters had properly
enacted the law.
With same-sex marriages unlikely to resume in California any
time soon, Love Honor Cherish, a gay rights group based in Los
Angeles, plans to start gathering signatures for a November ballot
initiative asking voters to repeal Proposition 8.
Copyright 2015 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.