Appeals court nullifies same-sex marriage ban

February 8, 2012

In a decision that likely will set the stage for a high-stakes
showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals struck down California's Proposition 8 ballot measure that
banned gay marriage, saying there is no "legitimate" reason to keep
same-sex couples from marrying.

Prop 8 supporters immediately
announced plans to appeal the 2–1 ruling February 7 to a larger panel of
the Ninth Circuit and, ultimately, to the Supreme Court.

"No
court should presume to redefine marriage. No court should undercut the
democratic process by taking the power to preserve marriage out of the
hands of the people," said Brian Raum, an attorney with the Alliance
Defense Fund, which is representing an umbrella group of Prop 8
supporters known as ProtectMarriage.com.

The appeals court's
decision upheld a 2010 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn
Walker, saying that "although the Constitution permits communities to
enact most laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be
at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats
different classes of people differently. There was no such reason that
Proposition 8 could have been enacted."

The Prop 8 amendment to
the state constitution was approved by 52 percent of California voters
in 2008, just five months after the state supreme court ruled that a
state ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. An estimated 18,000
same-sex couples tied the knot before Prop 8 was passed.

The
court also found no evidence that Walker was biased in his initial
ruling because he was gay and in a committed relationship. The court
did, however, side with Walker in maintaining a stay on all same-sex
marriage ceremonies until the case is decided.

Prop 8 supporters,
led by the National Organization for Marriage, immediately tried to use
the decision as a plea for fresh funding. "This sets up an
all-or-nothing showdown at the United States Supreme Court," NOM said in
an e-mail blast just minutes after the decision was announced. "But the
costs of litigating a Supreme Court case will run into millions of
dollars over the next year. We must have the resources to put on the
best possible defense."

Prop 8 opponents included Barry Lynn of
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who said: "No
American's right to marry should be subjected to a veto from aggressive
and well-funded religious groups. Our nation is a democracy, not a
theocracy."  —RNS