While supporters of same-sex marriage rights celebrated Wednesday’s court decision that struck down California’s ban on gay marriage, they also took a long view to note the fight would continue.
Conservatives, meanwhile, immediately condemned Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling as the “Roe v. Wade” of gay rights, referring to the 1973 Supreme Court case which legalized abortion across the United States.
Walker’s decision overturned Proposition 8, the California voter initiative approved in 2008 that banned gay marriage in the state as an amendment to the state constitution.
“Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license,” Walker writes in his decision, which likely will be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. “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.”
Supporters of gay marriage hailed the victory, coming as it did in the first gay-rights trial in U.S. history.
“Today’s decision is a huge victory for the LGBT people of America. For the first time, a federal court has conducted a trial and found that there is absolutely no reason to deny same-sex couples the fairness and dignity of marriage,” says James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. “At the same time, we know that this is not the end. In order to give this case the best possible chance of success as it moves through the appeals courts, we need to show that America is ready for same-sex couples to marry by continuing to seek marriage and other relationship protections in states across the country. It’s simply not fair, and not legal, to continue to exclude committed same-sex couples from marriage.”
In the case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Judge Walker of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco ruled that Proposition 8 violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection.
The lawsuit was brought by two same-sex couples after Proposition 8 passed in 2008, amending the California Constitution to deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry.
The ACLU says it is working with same-sex couples throughout the country to secure the freedom to marry by working to pass marriage bills in New York, Rhode Island and Maine and by seeking domestic partnership recognition in Montana, Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico and Alaska.
Vitriol From Opponents
Opponents on the Right denounced Walker’s ruling in angry terms, including the head of the Family Research Council (FRC), a prominent Washington-based organization of social conservatives which had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of the gay-marriage ban.
“This lawsuit, should it be upheld on appeal and in the Supreme Court, would become the ‘Roe v. Wade’ of same-sex ‘marriage,’ overturning the marriage laws of 45 states. As with abortion, the Supreme Court’s involvement would only make the issue more volatile,” says FRC President Tony Perkins. “It’s time for the far Left to stop insisting that judges redefine our most fundamental social institution and using liberal courts to obtain a political goal they cannot obtain at the ballot box.”
Perkins says the win for gay marriage came from “the most liberal appeals court in America,” and adds that he is “confident that we can help win this case before the U.S. Supreme Court,” which has tilted further to the Right under Chief Justice John Roberts.
Reaction within official Washington was fairly muted. The White House issued no statement, although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised the decision.
“I am extremely encouraged by the ruling today, which found that Proposition 8 violated both the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Proposition 8 has taken away individual rights and freedoms, and is a stain upon the California Constitution,” Pelosi says. “We must continue to fight against discriminatory marriage amendments and work toward the day when all American families are treated equally.”
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.