Appeals court rules California’s gay marriage ban breaks US constitution

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

California’s voter initiated ban on gay marriage has been ruled unconstitutional by a US federal court, upholding a decision by a judge to lift the ban in 2010.

The landmark ruling is just the latest twist in the battle over same sex marriage in the state.

In May 2008, the state’s supreme court ruled that Proposition 22 passed in 2000 and other statutes that limit marriage to a relationship between a man and a woman violated the equal protection clause of the California Constitution.

By June of 2008, a new voter initiated proposition, Prop 8, a new ban on gay marriage, overturning the earlier ruling had received 1.12 million signatures in support. On the same day as Barack Obama was elected, just over seven million Californians voted in favour of banning same sex marriage, compared to six and a half million voting to retain it. During the time that gay marriage was legal, more than 18,000 gay couples got married during the time that same sex marriage was legal.

In 2010, following a lengthy public trial, effectively appealing the decision of voters, Judge Vaughn Walker has ruled that the voter-initiated Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage in California, is unconstitutional.
Judge Walker ruled that Prop 8, as it has become known, violates the equal protection clause in the United States constitution by denying gays and lesbians the right to marry a member of the same sex.

Supporters of Prop 8 appealed his decision and today a three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled 2-1 that Judge Walker’s decision was correct.
“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,” the ruling of the court states.

Supporters of Prop 8 also claimed that Judge Walker was biased as he did not disclose that he was gay when conducting the trial. The Court of Appeals ruled that he was not required to make such a disclosure.

The 9th Circuit’s decision only applies to California, although it holds jurisdiction over Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregan and Washington. The govenor of Washington state recently said she will sign legislation to introduce gay marriage.

“Ever since the beginning of this case, we’ve known that the battle to preserve traditional marriage will ultimately be won or lost not here, but rather in the US Supreme Court,” Andy Pugno, general counsel for Protect Marriage said.

The governor of California Jerry Brown posted on Twitter: “The court has rendered a powerful affirmation of the right of same-sex couples to marry. I applaud the wisdom and courage of this decision.”