U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled today that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. The long awaited decision was just released from the U.S. District Courthouse for Northern California in San Francisco.
The case, Perry vs. Schwarzenegger, was a lawsuit in which two gay couples sued that Proposition 8 was a violation of their civil rights. The California voter-backed referendum, which passed by a margin of 52% to 48%, said that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Its implementation still allowed 18,000 gay and lesbian couples who legally married in 2008 to remain so.
In a word, Judge Walker’s decision said that this was bullshit. From his conclusion:
Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. 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.
Rick Bettan, an Associate at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, worked on the legal team opposing Prop 8. “I am ecstatic,” he said of the decision. “I think it is a very well written, very well considered decision that recognized that Proposition 8 has advanced no legitimate state interest. Prop 8 is not about promoting opposite sex parenting, because gays and lesbians are permitted and encouraged to raise children in California. Proposition 8 can not be justified on the basis of tradition. It can’t enshrine in the California Constitution private prejudices and preferences. And the court recognized that.”
Reviewing a newly received copy of the decision, Bettan highlighted two favorite parts: “The evidence adduced at trial shows that at the heart of Prop 8 was ‘a desire to advance the belief that opposite sex couples are morally superior to same-sex couples.'” Also, “‘Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny fundamental constitutional rights to gays and lesbians,'” to which Bettan adds, “or to anyone.”
Perry vs. Schwarzenegger alleged that creating multiple classes of people — gay couples who married in 2008 and can remain married, gay couples who can’t get married now, and straight couples who have the right to marry — clearly doesn’t allow for equal protection under the law. (Although, maybe an equal protection argument won’t work, if the 14th amendment is repealed before this case reaches the Supreme Court, where it will inevitably end up.)
The case is important in New York and throughout the nation as it bypasses the piecemeal, half-assed, state by state fight that has created pockets of quality through out the United States. A final federal ruling on the real issue here — are gays and lesbians entitled to the same legal protections as straight people? — could trump the constant voter referendums and state legislative battles that have left gay people begging for crumbs of equality in just a handful of states and jurisdictions.
Some are calling Perry vs. Schwarzenegger the gay Roe vs. Wade or Loving vs. Virginia might be a more apt analogy. Prop 8’s supporter defendants predicted that they would lose, and are ready to file their appeals.
A rally that will feel like a party for a change is happening from 7 to 9 tonight at 60 Centre Street, in front of the New York Supreme Court in Foley Square, hosted by Marriage Equality New York and Queer Rising.
Whether or not a stay will be ordered keeping marriage for straights only until an appeal Metro Weekly has a great FAQ on what you can expect to happen from here in the long march to the Supreme Court.
The case was won by a team headed by David Boies and Ted Olsen (opposing attorneys for Bush vs. Gore). The entire decision can be read online.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 4, 2010