Proposition 8, the voter-approved referendum banning gay marriage in California, was recently ruled to be unconstitutional by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Proposition 8 was passed in California in 2008 with 52% of the vote.
In 2010, Federal District Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled that preventing same-sex couples from marrying violates both the Due Process and Equal Protections clauses of the US Constitution. While the Ninth Circuit upheld Judge Walker’s decision, it framed the legal question more narrowly, focusing not on the right for same-sex couples to marry, but on the treatment of domestic partnerships. The Ninth Circuit ruled that the disparate treatment of domestic partners in California, when compared with married couples, violates the Equal Protections clause.
Writing for the majority, Judge Stephen R. Reinhart wrote, “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 ‘marriage’…. Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gay men and lesbians in California.”
However, a stay imposed by Judge Walker preventing same-sex couples remains in effect for two weeks following the ruling, preventing same-sex marriages from taking place immediately in California. The final question regarding whether same-sex couples have a Constitutional right to marry in California is not likely to be answered until the Supreme Court rules on an appeal from the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, or declines to entertain an appeal, which would be viewed by many as a tacit endorsement of this decision.