California’s Proposition 8 Overturned by Federal Judge

In a historic ruling that may have significant implications for other states, the Ninth Circuit District Court overturned Proposition 8, the California voter initiative banning same-sex marriage, on August 4, 2010.[1] In an extensive and firmly worded decision, U.S. District Court Chief Vaughn Walker struck down the ban on the grounds that it violated the Constitution’s equal protection and due process rights clauses.
 
Proposition 8 was passed by voters in November 2008, in response to a May 2008 decision by the California Supreme Court to overturn a previously held statutory ban on same-sex marriages.[2] In May 2009, two same-sex couples filed suit in federal court, challenging Proposition 8 on the grounds that it violated the U.S. Constitution.[3]
 
In his decision to overturn Proposition 8, Judge Walker found that the voter-approved ban irrationally discriminated against gays and lesbians, writing, “Proposition 8 places the force of law behind stigmas against gay men and lesbians, including: gays and lesbians do not have intimate relationships similar to heterosexual couples; gays and lesbians are not as good as heterosexuals; and gay and lesbian relationships do not deserve the full recognition of society”[4]
 
During the trial, proponents of Proposition 8 offered a straightforward defense of the measure, arguing that because marriage was based in the need to procreate it served a fundamental purpose that same-sex unions could not. They also cited marriage as a traditional institution, a claim that Judge Walker rejected, writing that “tradition alone cannot form the rational basis for a law.”[5]
 
The overturn of Proposition 8 represents a dramatic victory after a bitter and expensive battle that ended with 52.5 percent support on the ballot. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa praised the decision.[6] Judge Walker immediately stayed his decision, pending an appeal that was filed on August 13.[7]The appeal means that same-sex marriages will not resume until the next ruling has come down, instead of beginning again on August 18, as some had hoped.[8] But despite the appeal, some analysts say that Judge Walker’s legal groundwork will make it challenging for his ruling to be overturned. This is the first judgment offered by a federal court on same-sex marriage, and it has sparked speculation that the case may reach the U.S. Supreme Court.[9]
 
“Judge Walker’s decision represents an enormous victory for equality in this country,” comments Jen Heitel Yakush, director of public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. “Proposition 8 was an unjust measure, and the court has acted rightly in striking it down. Our Constitution was created to safeguard the interest of minority rights and the majority should never be in the position to deny a fundamental right such as marriage to a minority of our citizens.”
 
 


[1] Sam Stein, “Prop 8 Overturned: Gay Marriage Ban Struck Down in California, Huffington Post, 4 August 2010, accessed 18 August 2010, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/04/prop-8-overturned-gay-mar_n_671018.html>.
[2] Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, Election 2008 Ballot Measures Offer Mixed Results, November 2008, accessed 18 August 2010, http://siecus.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Feature.showFeature&featureid=1529&pageid=483&parentid=478.
[3] Ashby Jones, “Judge Puts Boies and Olson’s Prop. 8 Challenge on Fast Track to Trial,” Wall Street Journal Law Blog, 1 July 2009, accessed 24 August 2010, <http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2009/07/01/judge-puts-boies-and-olsons-prop-8-challenge-on-fast-track-to-trial/>.
[4] Sam Stein, “Prop 8 Overturned: Gay Marriage Ban Struck Down in California,” Huffington Post, 4 August 2010, accessed 18 August 2010, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/04/prop-8-overturned-gay-mar_n_671018.html>.
[5] Jesse McKinley and John Schwartz, “U.S. Court Overturns California Same-Sex Marriage Ban,” New York Times, 4 August 2010, accessed 18 August 2010, <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/05/us/05prop.html>.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Jesse McKinley, “Court Extends Stay on Allowing Gay Marriage,” New York Times, 16 August 2010, accessed 18 August 2010, <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/17/us/17prop.html>.
[8] Ibid.
[9] John Schwartz, “In Same-Sex Ruling, an Eye on the Supreme Court,” New York Times 4 August 2010, accessed 18 August 2010, <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/06/us/06assess.html>.

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