9th Circuit Rules Prop 8 Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

The 9th Circuit, the federal appeals court based in California, today upheld the trial court’s ruling that California’s Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. This referendum, narrowly passed in 2008, stripped same-sex couples of the right to marry. Here’s a quick summary from the San Francisco Chronicle’s website:

A federal appeals court declared California’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional today, saying a state can’t revoke gay rights solely because a majority of its voters disapprove of homosexuality.

In a 2-1 ruling, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said Proposition 8’s limitations on access to marriage took rights away from a vulnerable minority without benefiting parents, children or the marital institution.

“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,” said Judge Stephen Reinhardt in the majority opinion…

…Reinhardt, joined by Judge Michael Hawkins, pointedly refrained from deciding whether gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry. Instead, he said Prop. 8 violated the Constitution because it was rooted in moral disproval of gays and lesbians and withdrew rights they had won less than six months earlier, when the state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.

Their narrowly framed ruling would apply only to California, if upheld on appeal.

In dissent, Judge N. Randy Smith said Prop. 8 must be upheld if there was any reasonable basis for its enactment. For example, he said, Californians could have concluded – rightly or wrongly – that children were better off with married, biological parents, and that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples would encourage responsible child-rearing.

But the court majority said prohibiting same-sex marriage does not encourage opposite-sex couples to marry or raise children.

Read the rest of the article here.
Read the court decision here. The appeals court decided the case more narrowly than the trial court, which had ruled that gays and lesbians had an affirmative constitutional right to marry. The 9th Circuit found that Prop 8 did not pass even the lowest standard of review, namely whether there was any rational basis for the law to advance a legitimate public purpose. This standard does not require the court to treat gays and lesbians as a specially protected class.

The case now heads to the Supreme Court.

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