California Court Rules Voter-Approved Ban on Gay Marriage Unconstitutional

Posted February 7th, 2012 at 6:10 pm (UTC-5)
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A California appeals court has ruled that a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

The judges said in their ruling Tuesday the ban, known as Proposition 8, “serves no purpose” other than to lessen the “status and human dignity” of homosexuals in the state. The dissenting judge in the 2-to-1 decision said he thought the government could have a “legitimate reason” to restrict same-sex couples from marrying.

Gay marriage supporters cheered the ruling, while Proposition 8's proponents said they would appeal it, either to a higher California Court or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But some legal analysts said Tuesday the Supreme Court may choose not to weigh in, because Tuesday's ruling only applies to California's specific circumstances. The judges said the Proposition 8 was illegitimate because it took away a right that had already been granted.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein told VOA she thought the ruling, though narrow, was indicative of the broader issue, that no laws can change the U.S. constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law.

“On page 79 of the decision, there is one sentence: 'By using their initiative power to target a minority group, and withdraw a right it possessed without a legitimate reason for doing so, the people of California violated the Equal Protection clause. We hold Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional'. Now, what this means is that, in a very narrow sense, the court is saying that an initiative cannot change the guarantee that the constitution gives with respect to equal protection. So, it is a narrow decision, but it is really dispositive of the question.”

She said the federal law restricting gay marriage, known as the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, should likewise be overturned.

“My belief is that DOMA should fall on the same basis that Proposition 8 fell. But in the event it does not, or will not, we have produced a bill that would essentially repeal DOMA.”

Proposition 8 passed in 2008 with 52 percent of the vote, just months after the state had approved gay marriages.

Homosexual couples will still be prevented from marrying in California until the appeals process is complete.

The appeals court Tuesday also ruled that the judge who declared the ban unconstitutional in 2010 did not have a conflict of interest. Lawyers for the ban's supporters argued the judge should have been disqualified or recused himself because his long-term same-sex relationship meant he could have had a personal interest in allowing marriages between homosexual couples.

Several U.S. states and the District of Columbia allow gay couples to marry.