Judge: Prop 8 violates same-sex rights
Daniel Burke, Religion News Service
August 05, 2010

Judge: Prop 8 violates same-sex rights

Judge: Prop 8 violates same-sex rights
Daniel Burke, Religion News Service
August 05, 2010

In a decision with enormous

legal, political, and religious implications, a federal judge on Aug. 4 struck

down California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.

Chief U.S. District Judge

Vaughn Walker’s watershed decision marks the first time a federal judge has declared

a state gay marriage ban unconstitutional.

In a 138-page decision,

Walker ruled that “moral and religious views” are not a “rational basis” for

the state to deny same-sex couples equal marriage rights.

Walker concluded that

Proposition 8, California’s voter referendum that outlawed gay marriage in

2008, violates the constitutional rights of gay and lesbian couples.

“Proposition 8 fails to

advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a

marriage license,” Walker said.

“Indeed, the evidence shows

Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution

the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.”

Walker’s ruling is expected

to be appealed, and the lawsuit, brought by two same-sex couples and the city

of San Francisco, could eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Including California, 29

state constitutions bar same-sex marriage.

Twelve additional states

have laws restricting marriage to one man and one woman; same-sex marriage is

legal in five states and the District of Columbia.

While Walker’s ruling

technically applies to California, it will have wider implications as the case

moves up the federal judicial ladder — a fact ruefully acknowledged by

conservative activists.

Tony Perkins, president of

the conservative Family Research Council, warned that “this lawsuit, should it

be upheld on appeal and in the Supreme Court, would become the ‘Roe v. Wade’ of

same-sex marriage, overturning the marriage laws of 45 states.”

Even before the decision was

made public, the religious and conservative groups that pushed for Proposition

8 asked for a stay of Walker’s ruling and vowed to appeal it.

The case pitted same-sex

couples, who argued that gay marriage ban violated their constitutional rights

to equal protection, against religious groups and conservatives who countered

that the traditional definition of marriage — and the votes of 7 million

Californians who favored the ban — should stand.

California voters supported

Prop 8 by a margin of 52-48 percent in 2008, just five months after the state’s

Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.

Walker said the plaintiffs

offered “overwhelming evidence” the gay marriage ban violates their rights to

due process and equal protection under the law. He also noted California issued

18,000 marriage licenses to gay couples in the five months gay marriage was

legal and “has not suffered any demonstrated harm as a result.”

Religious groups — including

the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints —

used their political influence and deep pockets to push for Prop 8. Mormons

donated an estimated $22 million to the cause, and church headquarters were

fined $5,000 by California officials for failing to declare non-monetary


“The evidence shows

conclusively that moral and religious views form the only basis for a belief

that same-sex couples are different from opposite-sex couples,” Walker writes

in his decision. “The evidence fatally undermines any purported state interest

in treating couples differently; thus, these interests do not provide a

rational basis for supporting Proposition 8.

Religious conservatives

lamented Wednesday’s ruling. “Traditional Jewish values recognize marriage as

being only between a man and woman,” said the Union of Orthodox Jewish

Congregations of America in a statement.

“In addition to our

religious values — which we do not seek to impose on anyone — we fear legal

recognition of same-sex marriage poses a grave threat to the fundamental civil

right of religious freedom.”

But a recent poll sponsored

by advocates for gay equality suggests public opinion in California has shifted

in favor of allowing same-sex couples to wed.

Just 22 percent of

Californians believe passing Prop 8 was a good thing for the state, according

to a poll conducted in June by Public Religion Research Institute, a

non-partisan organization based in Washington.

A slight majority — 51

percent — said they would vote to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry if

another vote were held. The poll was sponsored by the Evelyn & Walter Haas,

Jr. Fund, to “survey California religious communities and help develop

religious education strategies supporting gay equality.”

Support for expanding the

definition of marriage remains tepid nationwide, though, with just 39 percent

of Americans saying gay marriage should be legal, according to a joint poll

conducted in April by CBS News and The New York Times.

But gay rights advocates

appear to be on a winning streak, after a federal judge in Boston last month

struck down part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that

defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and enables states not

to recognize same-sex relationships as marriages.