Wednesday, February 8, 2012

News from the States: Prop 8 Unconstitutional

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (a higher, federal court; not a California state court) has issued a ruling upholding an earlier lower court ruling which found that Proposition 8 was and is unconstitutional.  Prop 8, as you may recall, was the 2008 ballot initiative which banned same-sex marriage in the state of California, after marriage equality had been legalized by the California Supreme Court.

This ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court is profound, to put it lightly, and very good news for equality.  The judges ruled that Prop 8 indeed violated the Equal Opportunity Clause of the U.S. constitution, unfairly targeting a minority group, i.e. gay and lesbian Californians.

If the court-ordered stay is lifted within fourteen days (per the release of the official mandate), it would mean that marriage equality will return to California immediately.  If the opposition appeals again, however, to the U.S. Supreme Court, the stay on marriages will remain in place until the issue is resolved.

It is truly amazing news for equality, and a same-sex marriage case will likely eventually end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.  Due to the U.S. Supreme Court's influence, a ruling for marriage equality may have a very positive reverberation in courts around the world, including in the Philippines, whose constitution also has a clear-cut Equal Opportunity Clause borrowed almost directly from the U.S. Constitution's.

Some of the best excerpts from the tribunal's ruling today:

  • “By using their initiative power to target a minority group and withdraw a right that it possessed, without a legitimate reason for doing so, the people of California violated the Equal Protection Clause [of the federal Constitution].  We hold Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional on this ground.”
  • "We do not celebrate when two people merge their bank accounts; we celebrate when a couple marries. The designation of marriage is the status that we recognize. It is the principal manner in which the State attaches respect and dignity to the highest form of a committed relationship and to the individuals who have entered it.” 
  • “Proposition 8 operates with no apparent purpose but to impose on gays and lesbians, through the public law, a majority’s private disapproval of them and their relationships, by taking away from them the official designation of marriage, with its societally recognized status.  Proposition 8 therefore violates the Equal Protection Clause.” 
  • "Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status of human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples. The Constitution simply does not allow for "laws of this sort."" 

To sum up, American civil rights attorney Ari Waldman puts it well:
"More than any single vote, more than any single veto, more than any single legislative majority, the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Perry v. Brown is the most significant advancement in the fight for marriage equality in American history to date. Consider this: Never before has a federal appellate court affirmed any of the conclusions that the Ninth Circuit did today:
  • that denying committed gay couples their right to marry cannot encourage opposite sex marriages;
  • that when a state denies the right to marry while allowing gay couples all the rights and privilges of marriage, it cannot base the marriage ban on any rationale that denigrates gay parents;
  • that domestic partnerships are unequal to marriage;
  • that, as a matter of law, marriage rights do not hinge on natural procreative ability;
and, of course,
  • that a ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.


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