Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker has ruled Proposition 8 is unconstitutional “under both the due-process and equal-protection” clauses. His verdict comes in response to a lawsuit brought by two same-sex couples and the city of San Francisco seeking to invalidate the law as an unlawful infringement on the civil rights of gay men and lesbians.
Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriages in California five months after the state Supreme Court legalized them, passed with 52 percent of the vote in November 2008 following the most expensive campaign on a social issue in U.S. history. Attorneys on both sides have said an appeal was certain if Walker did not rule in their favor. The case would go first to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then the Supreme Court if the high court justices agree to review it.
Anticipating such a scenario, lawyers for the coalition of religious and conservative groups that sponsored Proposition 8 in 2008 filed a legal brief Tuesday asking Walker to stay his decision if he overturns the ban so same-sex couples could not marry while an appeal was pending. “Same-sex marriages would be licensed under a cloud of uncertainty, and should proponents succeed on appeal, any such marriages would be invalid,” they wrote.
Walker presided over a 13-day trial earlier this year that was the first in federal court to examine if states can prohibit gays from getting married without violating the constitutional guarantee of equality. Supporters argued the ban was necessary to safeguard the traditional understanding of marriage and to encourage responsible childbearing. Opponents said that tradition or fears of harm to heterosexual unions were legally insufficient grounds to discriminate against gay couples.
David Wilson of Mission Viejo says his marriage shouldn’t matter to others. “I may be married to a man, but I’m married nonetheless. If they can’t handle that, that’s not my problem,” he said. “Even before I really realized I was gay, I’d always had a strong belief in equal rights, and that some aspect of a person’s life that’s wholly out of their control — gender, race, sexual orientation, what have you — shouldn’t preclude them from being able to have the same rights as someone else.”