Proposition 8 Ruled Unconstitutional
Yesterday the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the prior ruling by US District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker that Proposition 8, which took away the right of same-sex couples to marry in CA, was unconstitutional. (Read the decision here.)
All that Proposition 8 accomplished was to take away from same-sex couples the right to be granted marriage licenses and thus legally to use the designation of ‘marriage,’ which symbolizes state legitimization and societal recognition of their committed relationships. Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and 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.” [Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620, 633 (1996)
Context: In California, state law extends the (state) benefits of marriage to same-sex and opposite-sex couples alike. Hence the grounds for this decision.
This is a narrow ruling: the court said it WOULD have taken up the broader question of a “right” of same-sex couples to marry legally, but chose to stick closely to the specific question at hand: “Broader issues have been urged for our consideration, but we adhere to the principle of deciding constitutional questions only in the context of the particular case before the court. (Sweatt vs. Painter, 339 US 629,631 (1950).”
The narrowness of the ruling is good news and bad news for proponents of civil same-sex marriage: on one hand, since it is predicated on the state granting equal benefits to same-sex and opposite-sex couples and denying them only the word “marriage,” it won’t be helpful in arguing for civil recognition in states where that’s not the case. On the other hand, the narrowness of the ruling seems to make it at least conceivable that the US Supreme Court might decline to review this decision. Opponents of same-sex marriage might pursue a full-panel re-hearing before 11 judges, or appeal directly to the Supreme Court.
Intriguingly, while the USCCB and the CDF spoken forcefully against civil recognition of same-sex unions, the decision, arguably, echoes the teaching of the Catechism regarding gay people: “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” (CCC 2358) To allow couples to enjoy all the benefits and responsibilities of marriage but to deny them the use of the word, does seem to single them out unjustly.
Same-sex marriage remains on hold pending a decision from Prop 8 proponents about whether to appeal (and to whom.) But this is a powerfully consoling moment for many:
It brings you to tears,” James Pearman, 60, of Daly City, said at a rally outside the Seventh Street courthouse after the ruling was announced. “You know that you are equal. You know that you have rights, that children (of gay parents) will have rights.
And this just in: both houses of Washington state’s legislature have voted to approve same-sex marriage in that state. The governor plans to sign the legislation. Opponents may launch a signature drive to force a referendum this November.
Opponents of same-sex marriage who take refuge in narrowly decided referenda rejecting same-sex marriage should be careful what they wish for. Polling data are trending steadily toward approval of same-sex marriage: soon the referenda are likely to tilt the other way.