Turning Point for Marriage Equality: Federal Appeals Court Declines to Rehear Historic Prop 8 Decision

Opponents of Equality May Now Appeal to U.S. Supreme Court

WASHINGTON – In an announcement that could either lead to a return to marriage equality in California or a historic case before the U.S. Supreme Court, today the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit declined to review a February decision of that court ruling that California’s constitutional amendment stripping loving, committed gay and lesbian couples of marriage violates the U.S. Constitution.  With today’s announcement, the proponents of Prop 8 are now likely to seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit is likely to continue the stay of its decision until that process is complete.  In the event that the Supreme Court decides not to hear the case, the lower court ruling would stand and gay and lesbian couples would again be able to marry in California.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese released the following statement in response on the day of this historic announcement:

“Once again, a federal court has affirmed that the cherished guarantees of our Constitution are there to protect all Americans – including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.  For over three years, the plaintiffs, the American Foundation for Equal Rights, and attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies have shown tremendous fortitude and perseverance in their fight for marriage equality.  With today’s announcement, we are one step closer to ensuring that gay and lesbian Californians – and, one day, our entire community nationwide – are able to join the institution of marriage and have their love and commitment respected equally.

“Today’s announcement is another significant step on a path that we all know leads to equality.  While the U.S. Supreme Court may ultimately decide the outcome of this case, we must all continue to walk that path – in this case and other courtrooms, in legislatures, at ballot boxes and at kitchen table – until all LGBT people are fully and equally part of the American community.”

In response to a 2008 decision by the California Supreme Court ending marriage discrimination in the state, anti-equality forces succeeded in placing a constitutional amendment on the November ballot. Despite over 18,000 same-sex couples having married, California voters adopted the amendment, known as Proposition 8. After the California Supreme Court determined in 2009 that the adoption of Prop 8 did not itself violate the California Constitution, two plaintiff couples — Kris Perry and Sandy Stier and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo – filed suit against the State of California in federal court, represented by attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies and supported by the American Foundation for Equal Rights, an organization co-founded by incoming HRC President Chad Griffin  The proponents of Prop 8 intervened in the case to defend the constitutionality of the amendment.

Judge Vaughn Walker, then-chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, held a historic trial in January 2010, in which the plaintiffs presented substantial testimony and evidence to show that Prop 8’s only purpose is to discriminate against same-sex couples.  In August 2010, in a historic decision, he concluded Prop 8 is unconstitutional.  That ruling was appealed to a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which affirmed Walker’s conclusion that Prop 8 in unconstitutional in February 2012, but stayed its decision as the proponents sought a rehearing.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

Understanding the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Ruling on Proposition 8

A look at the recent ruling on same-sex marriage in California

By Ellen Fischer

February 13, 2012

Last week, a three judge Federal appeals court panel ruled that California’s ban on same sex marriage violates the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians.

California first approved same sex marriage in June of 2008 when the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage based on the equal protection clause found in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Anti-gay efforts to overturn the law via ballot measure began immediately and, in November 2008, their proposition — known as Proposition 8 — was passed by a 52% majority of the vote. With that, Proposition 8, an amendment to the California Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman, thereby outlawed same sex marriage.

The ruling is a bit complicated from a layperson’s perspective, but can be understood as follows:

The Appeals Court’s ruling is based on a very narrow reading of the California law and this narrow ruling does not state that there is a constitutional right of same sex couples to marry. Rather, the ruling provides that the disparate treatment of married couples and domestic partners is unconstitutional.

A Legal Guide for Lesbian and Gay Couples

Let me try to explain a bit further.

On August 4, 2010, Judge Vaughn R. Walker, then chief judge of the Federal District Court of the Northern District of California, but who has since retired, issued an opinion holding Proposition 8 unconstitutional. Judge Walker, whose opinion was questioned by anti-gay members of the community on the basis that he was a gay man in a long-term committed relationship, was clear and unequivocal in his decision. His ruling asserted that it was an unconstitutional infringement of both the equal protection and due process clauses of the constitution to deny same sex partners the right to marry.

Read the rest of this post by Ellen Fischer of The Law Offices of Ellen Fischer via her Legally Yours column.