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California's Prop. 8 ban on same-sex marriage ruled unconstitutional

Gay-marriage supporters outside of the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco celebrate a U.S. judge's ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.
By Eric Risberg, AP

California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, a federal judge in San Francisco has ruled.

Proposition 8, passed by 52% of voters in November 2008, defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman. But after a non-jury trial earlier this year, Chief District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that the initiative violated the equal-protection and due-process clauses of the 14 Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who ruled that California's voter-approved Proposition 8 violates the Constitution, speaking in San Francisco in July 2006.
By S. Todd Rogers, San Francisco Daily Journal/AP

After the court announced yesterday that it would issue its ruling today, both sides said they would appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, also in San Francisco, depending on the outcome. Regardless of how the appeals court rules, the case will reach the U.S. Supreme Court next year or 2012.

Two gay men from Burbank and two lesbians from Berkeley challenged the law, which came in response to a May 2008 state Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage. In February 2004, San Francisco's new mayor, Gavin Newsom, approved same- sex marriages, and the city issued about 4,0000 marriage licenses before the state Supreme Court halted the weddings in March. Four months later the court voided all the licenses, prompting lawsuits from gay married couples.

The court set up a special site for the case.

Here's background on the battle over same-sex marriage in California.

Prop. 8 supporters Nadia Chayka and her fiance Luke Otterstad waited for the ruling outisde the federal building in San Francisco.
By Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Update at 4:58 p.m. ET: In his 136-page opinion, Walker ruled that Proposition 8 "both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation," and that the plaintiffs "seek to have the state recognize their committed relationships, and plaintiffs' relationships are consistent with the core of the history, tradition and practice of marriage in the United States."

Ultimately, Walker concluded, Prop. 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. "

Update at 5:13 p.m. ET: Read the full ruling here. Documents and video used as evidence can be found here.

Update at 5:33 p.m. ET: In a statement, California Attorney General Jerry Brown, who refused to defend Prop. 8 in court, notes that Walker "came to the same conclusion I did when I declined to defend it."

Brown, a Democrat and former governor, is running against Republican Meg Whitman, a founder of eBay, to replace Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Whitman opposes same-sex marriage.

In his response, Schwarzenegger said, "For the hundreds of thousands of Californians in gay and lesbian households who are managing their day-to-day lives, this decision affirms the full legal protections and safeguards I believe everyone deserves. At the same time, it provides an opportunity for all Californians to consider our history of leading the way to the future, and our growing reputation of treating all people and their relationships with equal respect and dignity.

"Today's decision is by no means California's first milestone, nor our last, on America's road to equality and freedom for all people."

Update at 5:55 p.m. ET: Opponents are weighing in, USA TODAY's Donna Leinwand reports.

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, called the judge biased.

"Big surprise! We expected nothing different from Judge Vaugh Walker, after the biased way he conducted this trial," Brown said in a statement. "With a stroke of his pen, Judge Walker has overruled the votes and values of 7 million Californians who voted for marriage as one man and one woman. This ruling, if allowed to stand, threatens not only Prop 8 in California but the laws in 45 other states that define marriage as one man and one woman."

"Here we have an openly gay (according to the San Francisco Chronicle) federal judge substituting his views for those of the American people and of our Founding Fathers who I promise you would be shocked by courts that imagine they have the right to put gay marriage in our Constitution," NOM chairman Maggie Gallagher added in the statement.

On her Faith & Reason blog, USA TODAY's Cathy Lynn Grossman writes that the Mormons, who were perhaps the biggest backers of Prop. 8, were first to respond.

They said, in part, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regrets today's decision. California voters have twice been given the opportunity to vote on the definition of marriage in their state and both times have determined that marriage should be recognized as only between a man and a woman. We agree. Marriage between a man and woman is the bedrock of society."

Update at 6:27 p.m. ET: The Los Angeles Times points out that Vaughn temporarily stayed his order until Friday to give Prop. 8 supporters time to file appeals and seek a longer stay. As a result, the Times writes, "The decision would appear to delay any resumption of gay marriage in the state."

(Posted by Michael Winter)

Aug 05, 2010

Prop 8 judge to religious believers: It's not about you

A group of men celebrate on the step of City Hall after learning a federal judge decision overturned California's same-sex marriage ban in San Francisco,
By Eric Risberg, AP
The ruling overturning Proposition 8 -- the ban on gay marriage in California -- is a fascinating document. If you have 20 minutes (you might skip some legalese) to read the ruling you will find Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's portrait of 21st century marriage will, depending on where you start, cheer or horrify you.

But since F&R focuses on religion, I'll zero in on the relevant quotes in Walker's ruling that address the interests of religious institutions, clergy and believers. You could summarize it pretty quickly, Walker seems to be saying, "'Believers, it's not about you."

The ruling says:

Marriage in the United States has always been a civil matter. Civil authorities may permit religious leaders to solemnize marriages but not to determine who may enter or leave a civil marriage. Religious leaders may determine independently whether to recognize a civil marriage or divorce but that recognition or lack thereof has no effect on the relationship under state law.

Walker also writes,

Proposition 8 does not affect the First Amendment rights of those opposed to marriage for same-sex couples. Prior to Proposition 8, no religious group was required to recognize marriage for same-sex couples.

He cites the California constitution that...

[A]ffording same-sex couples the opportunity to obtain the designation of marriage will not impinge upon the religious freedom of any religious organization, official, or any other person; no religion will be required to change its religious policies or practices with regard to same-sex couples, and no religious officiant will be required to solemnize a marriage in contravention of his or her religious beliefs.

The 2008 campaign to ban gay marriage through Proposition 8, volunteers such asRichie Beanan from Los Angeles, show here with a bus sign, promoted traditional marriage. A federal judge has overturned Prop. 8. His ruling says it has no impact on the lives and rights of supporters of traditional marriage.
By Steve Yeater, AP
Walker examines about how several major religious groups -- Catholics, Mormons, conservative evangelicals such as the South Baptist Convention, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod -- condemn either homosexual identity or behavior or both, citing documents from the Vatican to denominational resolutions.

But he spells out in all capital letters in the decision:

A PRIVATE MORAL VIEW THAT SAME-SEX COUPLES ARE INFERIOR TO OPPOSITE-SEX COUPLES IS NOT A PROPER BASIS FOR LEGISLATION...

California's obligation is to treat its citizens equally, not to "mandate [its] own moral code."

What do you think of Walker's view that gay marriage does no harm to the lives and rights of those who believe in traditional man-woman marriage? How does gay marriage affect your religious or moral life?


 
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