The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a ruling by Judge Vaughn Walker declaring California’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional.
Walker, 67, a Republican appointee, struck down Proposition 8 in August 2010 and said it violated the federal Constitution. ProtectMarriage, the sponsor of Proposition 8, appealed the ruling to the 9th Circuit.
The Appeals Court upheld Walker’s ruling with a 2-1 vote and agreed with Walker, saying the ballot measure which defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman was in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
“Proposition 8 served no purpose, and had no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California,” the court said in its ruling. “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 classes of people differently. There was no such reason that Proposition 8 could have been enacted.”
Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Michael Daly Hawkins ruled in favor of Walker’s opinion while Randy Smith pushed to uphold the gay marriage ban.
“Alternately, I am not convinced that Proposition 8 is not rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest,” Smith wrote. “I must therefore respectfully dissent.”
Smith was appointed by George H.W. Bush and is the former chair of the Idaho Republican Party. Smith, a Mormon, attended Brigham Young University, where he also later taught business classes.
ProtectMarriage has the option to appeal the decision to a larger panel of the 9th Circuit or go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. The larger panel would likely continue to uphold the ban, while the high court is divided on the issue. Many legal scholars believe Justice Anthony Kennedy will be the deciding vote.
The court included in the ruling that gay marriage cannot resume in the state until the deadline passes for Proposition 8 sponsors to make an appeal. If the appeal is filed, gay marriage will remain on hold until it’s resolved or a ruling is issued from the high court. While the Supreme Court could hear the case as early as next year, it’s unlikely same-sex marriage will resume in California any time soon. Love Honor Cherish, a gay rights group based in Los Angeles, plans to start gathering signatures for a November ballot initiative asking voters to repeal Proposition 8.
Gay rights activists cheered the ruling from the court and said they are optimistic for the future.
“There are days in our nation’s history when genuine progress toward our goal of forming a more perfect union is realized. Days when America’s founding promise, that all men and women are created equal, is once again fulfilled. Today is one of those days,” said Chad Griffin, Board president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, in a press release.
The ballot initiative, which passed with 52 percent of the vote in 2008, banned same-sex unions just five months after they became legal. The court’s ruling will not apply to other states with similar constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.
“Whether under the Constitution same-sex couples may ever be denied the right to marry, a right that has long been enjoyed by opposite-sex couples, is an important and highly controversial question,” the court said. “We need not and do not answer the broader question in this case.”
This ruling came more than a year after the appeals court began hearing arguments in the case. Prop. 8 backers asked the 9th Circuit to strike down Walkers ruling because he had not openly declared that he is gay until after the ruling when he retired. It was the first instance of an American judge’s sexual orientation being used as grounds for overturning a court decision. However, Walker’s successor James Ware, rejected those claims.