A panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the anti-gay marriage initiative passed by California voters in 2008 violates the U.S. Constitution. "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 people differently," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote in the decision. "There was no such reason that Proposition 8 could have been enacted."
"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. The Constitution simply does not allow for 'laws of this sort.'"
The ruling said the decision was made on "narrow grounds" regarding the California ballot measure and does not address the broader question of whether same-sex marriages may ever be banned. Next step is likely to be the Supreme Court. From Maura Dolan in the LA Times:
The ruling upheld a decision by retired Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who struck down the ballot measure in 2010 after holding an unprecedented trial on the nature of sexual orientation and the history of marriage.
In a separate decision, the appeals court refused to invalidate Walker’s ruling on the grounds that he should have disclosed he was in a long term same-sex relationship. Walker, a Republican appointee who is openly gay, said after his ruling that he had been in a relationship with another man for 10 years. He has never said whether he and partner wished to marry.
ProtectMarriage, the backers of Proposition 8, can appeal Tuesday's decision to a larger panel of the 9th Circuit or go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court is expected to be divided on the issue, and many legal scholars believe Justice Anthony Kennedy will be the deciding vote.
From the Sacramento Bee:
In a dissenting opinion, Judge N. Randy Smith said he was not convinced the state had no legitimate interest in Proposition 8, and he argued for judicial restraint when intervening in legislative enactments.
Adam Nagourney in the New York Times:
The 2-1 decision was much more narrowly framed than the sweeping ruling of Judge Walker, who asserted that barring same-sex couples from marrying was a violation of the equal protection and due process clauses of the Constitution. The two judges in this case stated explicitly they were not deciding whether there was a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry, instead ruling that the disparate treatment of couples under California law since the passage of Proposition 8 violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.