Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Split 9th Circuit Invalidates Proposition 8 Without Broadly Ruling On Same-Sex Marriage Right

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals today, in a 2-1 decision struck down California's Proposition 8 that eliminated the right-- previously created by the California Supreme Court's interpretation of the state constitution-- for same-sex couples to marry. In Perry v. Brown, (9th Cir., Feb. 7, 2012), [opinion on alternate website in case of traffic overload] Judge Reinhardt, in an opinion joined by Judge Hawkins, held that even though California may not have had the obligation to grant same-sex couples the right to marry, once it did, it could not take that right away without some legitimate reason for doing so. Here there was no legitimate reason. Instead, the majority concluded:
Proposition 8 servers no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples. The Constitution simply does not allow for "laws of this sort."
The court briefly discussed the argument that Proposition 8 furthered a legitimate interest in protecting religious liberty.  The majority said:
the religious-liberty interest that Proposition 8 supposedly promoted was to decrease the likelihood that religious organizations would be penalized, under California's antidiscrimination laws and other government policies concerning sexual orientation, for refusing to provide services to families headed by same-sex spouses. But Proposition 8 did nothing to affect those laws.... Amicus's argument is thus more properly read as an appeal to the Legislature, seeking reform of the state's antidiscrimination laws to include greater accommodations for religious organizations.
Judge Smith dissented on this issue, concluding that people of California might have rationally believed that Proposition 8 is related to responsible procreation and optimal parenting.

The Court unanimously held that the proponents of Proposition 8 had standing to bring the appeal, and unanimously refused to accept the argument that the decision should be vacated because of the trial judge's interest in being able to marry his own same-sex partner.

Washington Post reports on the decision.