California Labor &
Employment Law Blog

Aug. 5 2011

Federal Court Invalidates Proposition 8’s Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

Topics: Court Decisions

Following a much-publicized and anticipated trial, federal District Court Judge Vaughn Walker of the Northern District of California found that Proposition 8 ("Prop. 8"), the ballot initiative passed by California voters in November 2008 providing that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California," is unconstitutional under both the due process and equal protection clauses of the federal Constitution. In Perry et al. v. City and County of San Francisco, Plaintiffs are two same-sex couples who seek to marry their partners but have been denied marriage licenses by their respective county authorities pursuant to Prop. 8. They therefore challenged the constitutionality of Prop. 8's ban against same-sex marriages under the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and its enforcement by state officials under the federal civil rights statute 42 U.S.C. AASUNsect; 1983. Plaintiffs contend that Prop. 8 singles out gay men and lesbians for unequal treatment because they are prevented from marrying the person of their choice and that California's domestic partnership laws do not provide an adequate substitute for marriage. Plaintiffs further contend that Prop. 8 should be subjected to heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection clause because gay men and lesbians are a suspect class. Proponents of Prop. 8 intervened as Defendants in the action and argued that Prop. 8 maintains California's definition of marriage as excluding same-sex couples, affirms the will of California citizens, promotes stability in opposite-sex relationships, and promotes "statistically optimal" child-rearing households.

In ruling for Plaintiffs, Judge Walker found that Prop. 8 proponents failed to present credible factual evidence that Prop. 8 served a legitimate government interest, and in fact, Prop. 8 harms the state's interest in equality "based only on antiquated and discredited notions of gender." While this decision may ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court (indeed, proponents of Prop. 8 will likely seek review of Judge Walker's decision with the Ninth Circuit), the impact on employers is likely to be seen in the provision of employment benefits and leave rights to same-sex spouses if this decision is ultimately confirmed.

For a full discussion of the legislative and judicial history of the legality of same-sex marriage in California and trial court proceedings, it is contained in Judge Walker's decision in the Perry case and can be found here.

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For over 20 years, CDF has distinguished itself as one of the top employment, labor and immigration firms in California, representing employers in single-plaintiff and class action lawsuits and advising employers on related legal compliance and risk avoidance. We cover the state, with five locations from Sacramento to San Diego.

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About the Editor

Robin Largent has a regular presence in California state and federal courts and has been lead defense counsel and appellate counsel for large and small California employers in litigation (and arbitration) ranging from individual discrimination and harassment claims to complex wage and hour representative and class actions. She also leads the firm’s appellate practice, having substantial experience and success handling appeals, writ petitions, and amicus briefs in both state and federal court on issues such as class certification (particularly in the wage and hour arena), manageability and due process concerns associated with class action trials, exempt/non-exempt misclassification issues, meal and rest break compliance, trade secret/unfair competition matters, and the scope of federal court jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act.
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