TIla Tequila in Anti Prop 8 Ads
San Francisco (CNN) — A federal appeals court ruled against California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage Tuesday, arguing the ban unconstitutionally singles out gays and lesbians for discrimination.
In a split decision, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the state’s Proposition 8 “works a meaningful harm to gays and lesbians” by denying their right to civil marriage in violation of the 14th Amendment. Supporters of same-sex marriages cheered the decision when it was announced outside the courthouse Tuesday morning.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, California,” one man in the crowd shouted when the decision was released.
The 2-1 decision is expected to be appealed, to either the full court or to the U.S. Supreme Court, and a stay of the order remains in place as the appeal process continues, the court noted.
“We do not doubt the importance of the more general questions presented to us concerning the rights of same-sex couples to marry, nor do we doubt that these questions will likely be resolved in other states, and for the nation as a whole, by other courts,” Circuit Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Michael Daly Hawkins wrote in the majority opinion.
“For now, it suffices to conclude that the people of California may not, consistent with the federal Constitution, add to their state constitution a provision that has no more practical effect than to strip gays and lesbians of the right to use the official designation that the state and society give to committed relationships, thereby adversely affecting the status and dignity of the members of a disfavored class.”
In a part-concurring, part-dissenting opinion, Circuit Judge N. Randy Smith said he wasn’t sure Proposition 8 “lacks a rational relationship to legitimate state interests” in terms of raising children. Previous rulings show an argument for “extreme judicial restraint” in such cases, he wrote.
But same-sex marriage activist Billy Bradford said Tuesday’s ruling marks how Americans understand there’s nothing wrong with allowing a same-sex couple to get married.
“For me, it’s a beautiful day,” Bradford told CNN outside the courthouse. “But it’s a great day for the Constitution.”
Proposition 8, which passed in 2009 with 52% of the vote. California’s Supreme Court had allowed same-sex marriages in California before Proposition 8, but its passage brought an end to the practice.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian legal foundation that backed Proposition 8, said it was not surprised that “this Hollywood-orchestrated attack on marriage — tried in San Francisco — turned out this way.” But it said it was confident the Supreme Court would uphold “the expressed will of the American people.”
“No court should presume to redefine marriage. No court should undercut the democratic process by taking the power to preserve marriage out of the hands of the people,” it said.
Opponents of same-sex marriage point out that they have won referenda in every state where the issue has been on the ballot. But a CNN-Opinion Research Corp. poll in September found that public opinion has shifted nationwide since 2009, with 53% now saying same-sex marriages should be recognized as valid and 46% opposed.
Tuesday’s decision also rejected arguments by supporters of the ban that now-retired federal judge Vaughn Walker — who found Proposition 8 unconstitutional in 2010 — should have stepped aside and let another judge hear the case. Walker disclosed after his retirement that he is gay and in a long-term relationship, leading Proposition 8 advocates to argue he should not have heard the case.
Prior to Walker’s ruling, the California Supreme Court allowed Proposition 8 to stand, saying it represented the will of the people.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris hailed Tuesday’s decision as “a victory for fairness, a victory for equality and a victory for justice,” while Gov. Jerry Brown called it “a powerful affirmation of the right of same-sex couples to marry.”
And Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who had allowed same-sex marriages when he was mayor of San Francisco, called it “a historic milestone towards equality for all Americans.”
“This is the biggest step that the American judicial system has taken to end the grievous discrimination against men and women in same-sex relationships and should be highly praised,” Newsom said in a written statement.
CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said the decision appears to be tailored narrowly to California and Proposition 8, rather than finding a federal right for gay and lesbian couples to marry. But that might be an advantage when the Supreme Court considers any appeal, since the justices might decide against taking a case that has no impact beyond California.
“This might well be the last word on the case,” Toobin said.
Six states currently grant same-sex marriage licenses — New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire. The District of Columbia also does.
Five additional states recognize civil unions, providing state-level spousal rights to same-sex couples. They are Hawaii, Delaware, New Jersey, Illinois and Rhode Island.