UPDATE: More details on tonight's celebratory rally (see end of post) . . .
In a landmark case, Proposition 8, the 2008 California voter initiative that outlawed gay marriage, was overturned. Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco ruled that the voter initiative is unconstitutional.
"Plaintiffs have demonstrated by overwhelming evidence that Proposition 8 violates their due process and equal protection rights and that they will continue to suffer these constitutional violations until state officials cease enforcement of Proposition 8," the appointee of President George H.W. Bush said in his ruling.
Walker declared that Prop 8 violates the U.S. Constitution on two counts: due process and equal protection clauses.
"Because Proposition 8 is unconstitutional under both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, the court orders entry of judgment permanently enjoining its enforcement; prohibiting the official defendants from applying or enforcing Proposition 8 and directing the official defendants that all persons under their control or supervision shall not apply or enforce Proposition 8," Walker wrote.
Five months after the state Supreme Court declared that same-sex marriage was legal, California voters in November 2008 narrowly approved Prop 8 and took away the right despite the fact that more than 18,000 gay and lesbians couples had legally married.
The fact that the Golden State did not break off from the continent and tumble into the sea as a result of those marriages played a part in Walker's ruling, where he wrote, "California is able to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as it has already issued 18,000 marriage licenses to same-sex couples and has not suffered any demonstrated harm as a result . . . moreover, California officials have chosen not to defend Proposition 8 in these proceedings."
His ruling came as a result of a lesbian couple having filed a lawsuit stating Prop 8 violated their rights on constitutional grounds. He heard from scores of witnesses who testified about the history of marriage, the nature of homosexuality and the degree of power gays and lesbians possess in the political system. Most testimony favored marriage equality.
In his ruling, Walker squashed like a Central Valley grape the defense notion that gays make terrible parents.
Among those who immediately hailed the decision was Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said it sets the stage for California to further lead the country is ensuring fairness and equal rights for all.
"I believe everyone deserves" the right to marry, the Republican governor said.
Walker also announced he has granted a temporary stay of his decision, which likely prevents same-sex couples from immediately going to courthouses to get married. It could therefore be months before such marriages resume.
The San Jose Mercury News previously reported Prop 8 supporters asked for the stay the night before Walker issued his ruling. The motion indicates that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will be immediately asked to review Walker's decision.
"A stay is essential," the lawyers wrote, "to averting the harms that would flow from another purported window of same-sex marriage in California."
As part of its live coverage of the ruling, CNN interviewed UC Irvine School of Law dean Erwin Chemerinsky, who said the ruling is "very important because it's the first court that's found the prohibition on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution."
He noted that previous decisions where rulings were made in favor of marriage equality found that bans violate the respective state's constitution.
This ruling thus sets up an eventual showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court, although Chemerinsky noted California's may not be the first law bearing on gay marriage to reach the Supremes.
An earlier ruling elsewhere against the federal Defense of Marriage Act may reach the Supreme Court first, said the legal scholar, who added a decision on that could have a bearing on how justices eventually rule on Prop 8.
"It's still a long way before it gets to the Supreme Court," Chemerinsky cautioned, "and it's uncertain what they would do."
He believes Walker ruled the way he did because the Prop 8 defense team failed to prove the government has a legitimate reason to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying.
CNN moderate-GOP commentator David Gergen noted that Walker is no radical liberal jurist, having risen in the federal courts thanks to Bush Sr. and Ronald Reagan, who believed him to be conservative.
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But Walker previously bucked the party when he ruled against Bush Jr.'s warrantless wiretaps.
Center Long Beach sent the following message re: Day of Decision Long Beach - Federal Trial on Proposition 8 - Rally Tonight!:
Just minutes ago Federal Court Judge Walker rules Proposition 8 unconstitutional "under both the due-process and equal-protection clauses."
This is a step in the right direction but the fight for equality is not over! What does this mean for California? What are our next steps?
Join us at the Long Beach community rally for equality and social justice for all tonight, Wednesday, August 4th, at 6 p.m. at Bixby Park (Cherry Avenue & Broadway) in Long Beach.
Bixby Park: 130 Cherry Ave., Long Beach, CA 90802.
Link via Google Maps here.
Participating Community Partners Include:
- Shout Long Beach
- Get Out Long Beach
- The Center Long Beach
- The AMP Organization
- Lambda Legal
- Long Beach Lambda Democratic Club
- Equality California
- First Congregational Church
- Human Rights Campaign - Long Beach/Orange County