Same-Sex Marriages to Resume in California

The federal judge whose ruling struck down Proposition 8 eight days ago has lifted the temporary stay on same-sex marriage. Gay and lesbian couples will be able to wed once again starting Aug. 18.

On Aug. 4 Chief Judge Vaughn Walker of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that the controversial initiative, which re-banned gay marriage in the Bay State in 2008, was unconstitutional. He did, however, issue a stay on the ruling in order to hold a hearing on whether same-sex marriages could continue while Proposition 8 proponents appealed the decision.

Walker lifted the stay around 1 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time on Aug. 12 in an 11-page order. He based his decision in part on what he saw as the success of an appeal by Proposition 8 supporters, who have said they will take the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Even if proponents were to have standing to pursue their appeal, as the court recently explained at length the minimal evidence proponents presented at trial does not support their defense of Proposition 8,” Walker wrote in the order. “Proponents had a full opportunity to provide evidence in support of their position and nevertheless failed to present even one credible witness on the government interest in Proposition 8. …  Based on the trial record,
which establishes that Proposition 8 violates plaintiffs’ equal protection and due process rights, the court cannot conclude that proponents have shown a likelihood of success on appeal.”

Walker also wrote that defendants did not prove that “irreparable harm” to them would result unless he issued an ongoing stay.

“Proponents also point to harm resulting from “a cloud of uncertainty” surrounding the validity of marriages performed after judgment is entered but before proponents’ appeal is resolved,” he continued. “Proponents have not, however, alleged that any of them seek to wed a same-sex spouse. Proponents admit that the harms they identify would be inflicted on ‘affected couples and the State.’ Under the second factor the court considers only whether the party seeking a stay faces harm, yet proponents do not identify a harm to them that would result from denial of their motion to stay.”

Walker did, however, extend the stay until Aug. 18 at 5 p.m. to allow Proposition 8 proponents to file their appeal with the Ninth Circuit court.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown previously urged Walker to lift the stay, as did several local and national gay and transgender rights groups, many of whom celebrated today’s ruling.

“We extend our heartfelt congratulations to the same-sex couples who will again be free to experience the joy and celebration of legally marrying in California,” said Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

“This is a remarkable moment, stemming from the landmark ruling declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional. That decision came down to a simple yet profound principle: People should be treated equally under the law. Lifting the stay puts that principle into practice. We thank the judge for his continuing sense of fairness and sound reasoning in this case.”

The Ninth District Court, however, retains the authority to override Walker’s ruling. It has not indicated yet whether it will.

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