[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] on Wednesday ruled [opinion, PDF] that California’s ban on same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] violates the US Constitution [text]. Judge Vaughn Walker held that the ban, known as Proposition 8 [text; JURIST news archive], violated both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause [Cornell LII backgrounders] of the Fourteenth Amendment. He also emphasized that the fact that the law was passed by referendum was “irrelevant, as ‘fundamental rights may not be submitted to [a] vote[.]'” In finding that the ban on same-sex marriage violated due process, Walker held that same-sex marriage was required as part of the fundamental right to marriage affirmed by the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia [text]. He said that by impairing this fundamental right, the state must demonstrate that the law survives strict scrutiny by being narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest and that the state had failed to do this. Additionally, the court found that the state’s domestic partnership scheme did not satisfy the plaintiffs’ right to marriage because it was specifically created to exclude same-sex couples from the “culturally superior” institution of marriage. In addressing equal protection, the court found that discrimination based on sexual orientation should be subject to strict scrutiny, but it was unnecessary here because Proposition 8 failed to satisfy even rational basis review. Citing the Supreme Court case of Romer v. Evans [text], the court held that “moral disapproval of homosexuality, animus towards gays and lesbians or simply a belief that a relationship between a man and a women is inherently better than a relationship between two men or two women, … is not a proper basis on which to legislate.” The court explained:
Many of the purported interests identified by proponents are nothing more than a fear or unarticulated dislike of same-sex couples. Those interests that are legitimate are unrelated to the classification drawn by Proposition 8. The evidence shows that, by every available metric, opposite-sex couples are not better than their same-sex counterparts; instead, as partners, parents and citizens, opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples are equal. Proposition 8 violates the Equal Protection Clause because it does not treat them equally.
Following the decision, Walker stayed the ruling until Friday [order, PDF], when he will decide whether to stay the ruling pending appeal. The Alliance Defense Fund [advocacy website], a party defending the law, called the decision [press release] a “disappointing one” which “gut[s] the core of the American democratic system.” The organization has stated that it will appeal the case to the Supreme Court if necessary.
In June, the court heard closing arguments in the case [JURIST report], Perry v. Schwarzenegger [case materials]. During closing arguments, the attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the state ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional because it denied same-sex couples a fundamental constitutional right based solely on their sexual orientation. The attorneys argued: “[Marriage] is the right of individuals, not an indulgence dispensed by the State of California, or any state, to favored classes of citizens which could … be withdrawn[.]” In the closing arguments in defense of Proposition 8, its proponents stressed the importance of the institution of marriage to society as a means to “responsible procreation,” arguing that the suggestion that the ban was motivated by an animus toward homosexuals was a “slur on 7 million Californians who supported Proposition 8.” Several jurisdictions in the US have legalized same-sex marriage, including the District of Columbia, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts [JURIST reports] and the Coquille Indian Tribe [OregonLive report].