Wednesday, August 04, 2010

California Federal District Court Strikes Down Proposition 8, The State's Ban On Same-Sex Marriage

In a 138-page opinion today, a federal district court in San Francisco held that California's Proposition 8 that bans same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. In Perry v. Schwarzenegger,(ND CA, Aug. 4, 2010), the court held that

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. 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....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.
In approaching the substantive due process argument, the court said that
the parties do not dispute that the right to marry is fundamental. The question presented here is whether plaintiffs seek to exercise the fundamental right to marry; or, because they are couples of the same sex, whether they seek recognition of a new right.....
The evidence shows that the movement of marriage away from a gendered institution and toward an institution free from state-mandated gender roles reflects an evolution in the understanding of gender rather than a change in marriage. The evidence did not show any historical purpose for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, as states have never required spouses to have an ability or willingness to procreate in order to marry.... Rather, the exclusion exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage. That time has passed.....
The court concluded that domestic partnerships do not fulfill the state's due process obligation, because they "do not provide the same social meaning as marriage."

Moving to the equal protection issue, the court said:
The evidence at trial shows that gays and lesbians experience discrimination based on unfounded stereotypes and prejudices specific to sexual orientation. Gays and lesbians have historically been targeted for discrimination because of their sexual orientation; that discrimination continues to the present.....
Ultimately the court avoided deciding whether that history of discrimination triggered a strict scrutiny review, because, in its view, Proposition 8 failed even the rational basis test. The court rejected a series of purported justification for treating same-sex couples differently.  It said the evidence showed that same-sex marriage has no adverse effect on society or the institution of marriage and that "tradition alone ... cannot form a rational basis for a law."  Proponents also argued that Proposition 8 protects the First Amendment freedom of those who oppose same-sex marriage. The court responded:
To the extent proponents argue that one of the rights of those morally opposed to same-sex unions is the right to prevent same-sex couples from marrying ..., those individuals’ moral views are an insufficient basis upon which to enact a legislative classification.....
In the absence of a rational basis, what remains of proponents’ case is an inference, amply supported by evidence in the record, that Proposition 8 was premised on the belief that same-sex couples simply are not as good as opposite-sex couples..... Whether that belief is based on moral disapproval of homosexuality, animus towards gays and lesbians or simply a belief that a relationship between a man and a woman is inherently better than a relationship between two men or two women, this belief is not a proper basis on which to legislate..... [M]oral disapproval, without any other asserted state interest,” has never been a rational basis for legislation..... Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples.

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