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.