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SAN FRANCISCO – In a landmark case, a federal judge ruled today that California’s Proposition 8 law banning marriage equality is unconstitutional.
Just five months after the state Supreme Court declared that same-sex marriage was legal, California voters in November 2008 narrowly approved Prop. 8 and took away the right to wed despite the fact that more than 18,000 gay and lesbians couples had legally married.
Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker presided over the case, which went to trial on Jan. 11, 2010. Closing arguments concluded on June 16.
In his ruling, which was released electronically this afternoon, Walker declared that Prop. 8 violated the U.S. Constitution on two counts: due process and equal protection clauses.
“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 samesex couples and has not suffered any demonstrated harm as a result … moreover, California officials have chosen not to defend Proposition 8 in these proceedings,” Walker wrote in his ruling.
“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,” Walker wrote.
The elation of equal-rights supporters was quickly tempered a few minutes after the ruling came down when Judge Walker then issued a temporary stay on the ruling and ordered attorneys for the plaintiffs to respond by Friday, Aug. 6.
The defense attorneys, perhaps anticipating Walker’s decision, had filed a motion with the judge on Tuesday, asking for the stay if he ruled against them.
The reaction in San Diego
State Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego: “I applaud Judge Walker’s ruling on behalf of equality today for all loving and committed couples in California. These men and women deserve the right to marry and this decision reinforces that our society is a fair and just place. I hope the community celebrates today’s victory and remains vigilant in the pursuit of civil rights for all Californians.”
Dr. Delores A. Jacobs, CEO of The Center: “This is a great day for every American who believes that the U.S. Constitution guarantees us all equal treatment and due process. The decision further reminds us all that in America there are laws, principles and freedoms that are fundamental; “the people” cannot simply decide to discriminate against a group they may not like. The fundamental rights of a minority cannot be stripped away by a popular vote of the majority, and it is fundamentally unconstitutional to have one set of laws for some, and another set for the rest of us. During this court case the federal court heard directly from lesbian and gay couples about the harm that marriage inequality does to their lives and families. Like last month’s case in Massachusetts, again the court did not hear a single rational reason for continuing to exclude same-sex couples from the fundamental freedom to marry. Some of the most respected attorneys in the country, conservative and liberal alike, laid out a clear and compelling case that no intellectually honest court could dismiss. The advocates for Prop. 8 demonstrated that the intention and approach to Prop 8 was not rational and reasonable but instead, a direct product of their hostility, fear and dislike for lesbian and gay couples and families. That isn’t reason for discrimination in America.”
Carl DeMaio, San Diego City Councilmember: “Today we celebrate an important and positive step in our ongoing journey to full equality.”
Todd Gloria, San Diego City Councilmember: “I am overjoyed that the U.S. District Court overturned Proposition 8. I know our fight to secure this right is not over, but I am confident this civil right will be confirmed and marriage equality will be realized.”
Fernando Lopez, a marriage-equality activist from San Diego: “Today we stand victorious in the light of love piercing through the storm of discrimination. This moment is our tipping point as the years of institutionalized legal barriers begin to crumble and fall under the weight of their own hatred and fear. The precedent set here today will resonate across this country, and in the pursuit of happiness, we will achieve true liberty and justice for all.”
Brian Lyons, graphic designer and small-business owner in San Diego: “Today was a step in the right direction for equality in America. I believe that California as an entire entity has grown and matured in the last 2 years since Prop 8 passed, and Judge Walker took that into consideration when making his decision. Although an appeal is imminent, I know in my heart that Californians up and down the state are standing up for equality, and will never sit idly by again. Today we celebrate and thank our fellow citizens, but the work continues. Equality for all 2010.”
Lisa Kove, executive director of DOD FED GLOBE: “An error exposed as the truth of equality is obtained. … Still we must remember that many employees of the federal government reside in California and cannot share their benefits because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It is our hope that the Attorney General of California will sue the federal government to obtain those rights for its citizens that are in a same gender marriage.”
Stephen Whitburn, candidate for San Diego County Board of Supervisors: “Today is a great day in America. The court’s decision restored equal justice under the law and made it clear once again that separate is not equal. We all know discrimination is ugly and we must be vigilant to fight it wherever it arises.”
Toni Atkins, candidate for the California Assembly from San Diego and who is legally wed to her wife, Jennifer LaSar: "This is a good day for San Diegans and all Californians. I’m thrilled with the extraordinary decision today from the U.S. District Court. This is a huge milestone in the fight for marriage equality and a step in the right direction to offer full equality to gays and lesbians in California and throughout the entire nation. We, in the LGBT community, have known all along that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional and an unlawful infringement on our civil rights. The ruling today validates my same-sex marriage, and is an essential and significant affirmation to countless other California same-sex couples who want to make a lifelong commitment to each other. I look forward to the day when marriage equality is no longer an issue and when the rights of our LGBT community are fully protected. So while we have more work to do to ensure our civil rights, for now, I intend to celebrate this victory with my spouse – Jennifer – and with our LGBT community and friends."
Juanita Martindale, former San Diegan whose husband came out of the closet after 18 years of marriage: “A direct quote from my son Oliver, age 12: ‘Today is the day that my dreams of seeing my dad married and happy come true.’ ”
Alex Villalobos, an educator from San Diego: “What an unforgettable day today! It brings happy tears to my eyes! It is a great day for all Californians!”
Dale Dubach, owner of Martinis Above Fourth: “I am filled with hope that one day all people will be afforded the same respect, dignity and rights currently coveted by those that enjoy that which we seek.”
Fernan Balsalubre, San Diego activist: “Although Prop. 8 has been overturned, this just means that the long road to full marriage equality begins -- this will eventually return to the voters, then, hopefully, the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Carlos Marquez, director of community programs and public affairs at The Center: “We join the rest of the community in our excitement. This is considered a tremendous day not only for our community but for every American! In America there are laws, principals and freedoms that are fundamental. People cannot simply decide to discriminate against a group they may not like.”
Mary L. Stockton, financial services professional at New York Life office in San Diego: "We are grateful to the court for recognizing that certain rights, such as marriage to the person that you love, are so fundamental that they cannot be taken away--even by a majority of the voters. To move a step closer to being legally recognized as stable long term couples who raise families, pay taxes, retire, and cope with the same stresses and joys of all other families is reaffirming. We know there is a road ahead of us, but my wife and I, as well as our friends and families, are celebrating the powerful words of Judge Vaughn Walker. All couples and families in California can celebrate this momentous decision for equality."
The reaction elsewhere in California
California Gov. Arnold Swarzenegger, a Republican: “Judge walker had the great responsibility of deciding whether Prop. 8 violates the Constitution of the United States. He heard in-depth arguments from both sides. I am glad all viewpoints were respected throughout the proceedings. For the hundreds of thousands of Californians and gay and lesbian households who are managing their day-to-day lives, this decision affirms the full legal protections and safe guards I believe everyone deserves. At the same time, it provides an opportunity for all Californians to consider our history of leading the way to the future and our growing reputation of treating all people and their relationships with equal respect and dignity. Today’s decision is by no means California’s first milestone nor our last on America’s road to equality and freedom for all people.”
California Attorney General Jerry Brown, a Democrat: “In striking down Proposition 8, Judge Walker came to the same conclusion I did when I declined to defend it: Proposition 8 violates the equal protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution by taking away the right of same-sex couples to marry, without a sufficient governmental interest.”
Liza Minnelli tells the Advocate: "Today's ruling in California encourages me to believe that people are beginning to understand that if you want to be with someone, protect them, and care for them through vows and the legalities of marriage, then you should be able to do that. Wonderful news."
Chad Griffin, board chairman of American Foundation for Equal Rights: “Supporters of Prop 8 are appealing the decision as we speak. They have vowed to take this case all the way to the Supreme Court. This will be a grueling—and expensive—road. We need your support to keep fighting for marriage equality for as long as it takes. We know the anti-marriage forces will do whatever it takes to win. We can’t let them prevail.”
NOH8 staff: "Today’s victory is just a small example of our potential. The community was returned the rights that were unfairly stripped away from them by Prop 8, and that is truly something to appreciate. Though we have a lot to celebrate and be thankful for, it’s important to remember that our work is far from over. The NOH8 Campaign will continue to spread its message of equality and anti-discrimination wherever it can, bringing NOH8 to as many states as we can in order to make a change – and we need your help. We’re bringing NOH8 to Hawaii for example, planning to help register voters in an environment where civil unions were recently vetoed by the governor so that our supporters can make their voices heard in their local elections this fall … What we as a community need to do now is what we did when Proposition 8 passed in the first place. We need to keep the issue alive and make ourselves known. We need to band together in a fundamental way that we haven’t before. We need to continue to work together to advance our inevitable goal of full equality across the board no matter what."
Rick Jacobs, Courage Campaign chairman: “Judge Walker's federal court decision is an historic milestone in the fight for full equality, but it is only a first step: The decision will inevitably be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Adam Shankman, judge on “So You Think You Can Dance” and a director and producer: "Patiently awaiting the ruling on Prop. 8 constitutionality. Curious to find out if I'm going to be considered an equal citizen of the U.S. today"
Leonard M. Lanzi, state chairman of California Log Cabin Republicans: "Today, all Californians have had their rights strengthened through the court’s decision. As Republicans, we are heartened that plaintiff’s attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies used core conservative principles of privacy, liberty and freedom to convince the court that Prop. 8 should be overturned. While we anticipate this decision to be appealed to the highest court in the land, Log Cabin Republicans will continue our work to change hearts and minds in all communities across the California."
The reaction outside of California
The White House spokesman, per The Advocate: "The president has spoken out in opposition to Proposition 8 because it is divisive and discriminatory. He will continue to promote equality for LGBT Americans.”
Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry: “Judge Walker's decision will be appealed and litigation will continue, but what we witnessed in the clear light of his courtroom cannot be erased. The witnesses, evidence, and arguments all demonstrated what we've long known: exclusion from marriage harms committed same-sex couples and their families, while helping no one, and the unjustified and unfair denial of marriage to same-sex couples violates the United States Constitution. The judge's ruling reflects the growing consensus in courtrooms and legislatures across the country, and around the world, that there is simply no good reason to exclude same-sex couples from marriage.”
Jennifer C. Pizer, National Marriage Project director for Lambda Legal: "No one is under any illusion that today's decision is the end of this fight. Prop 8's proponents have made clear they will appeal. But today, we appreciate the clear and detailed analysis in this decision that will frame the case as it moves forward, and we congratulate the legal team of Ted Olson and David Boies, and of the City and County of San Francisco, for presenting such a thorough and compelling case in court."
Rea Carey, executive director of National Gay and Lesbian Task Force: “The tide is turning nationwide in favor of marriage equality, but our work is far from over. Today’s ruling is just a beginning step in what will likely be a long process, yet we are confident that fairness will prevail. Our conversations are breaking down barriers and helping to transform our country.”
Joe Solmonese, Human Rights Campaign president: “After hearing extensive evidence in support of marriage equality, and essentially no defense of the discrimination wrought by Prop 8, Judge Walker reached the same conclusion we have always known to be true – the Constitution’s protections are for all Americans, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. We thank the courageous plaintiff couples, the American Foundation for Equal Rights, and attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies for their tremendous efforts leading to today’s decision and their ongoing commitment as the case moves forward on appeal. The battle for marriage equality continues, and we must all continue our work – in courthouses and statehouses, in church pews and living rooms – until equality is reality for LGBT people and our families everywhere.”
Carol D. Goodheart, American Psychological Association president: “The U.S. District Court ruling today affirming the right of same-sex couples to marry in California is a victory for both science and basic human dignity. The American Psychological Association is gratified that the court agreed that there is no justification for denying marriage equality to same-sex couples. The research shows that same-sex couples are similar to heterosexual couples in essential ways and that they are as likely as opposite-sex couples to raise mentally healthy, well-adjusted children. Thus, there is no scientific justification for denying marriage equality, when research indicates that marriage provides many important benefits.”
Kim Farah, speaking for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which poured millions into the Yes on 8 campaign: “There is no doubt that today's ruling will add to the marriage debate in this country and we urge people on all sides of this issue to act in a spirit of mutual respect and civility toward those with a different opinion. … California voters have twice been given the opportunity to vote on the definition of marriage in their state and both times have determined that marriage should be recognized as only between a man and a woman. We agree. Marriage between a man and woman is the bedrock of society."
Brian Brown, National Organization for Marriage president: "With a stroke of his pen, Judge Walker has overruled the votes and values of 7 million Californians who voted for marriage as one man and one woman. This ruling, if allowed to stand, threatens not only Prop 8 in California but the laws in 45 other states that define marriage as one man and one woman. … Never in the history of America has a federal judge ruled that there is a federal constitutional right to same sex marriage. The reason for this is simple - there isn't!"
James Esseks, director of ACLU LGBT Project: “Today's ruling shows that we can stop extremist forces who want to impose their own narrow view of morality on the rest of us. But we must do more than that. We must demonstrate that there is a national consensus in support of marriage and other relationship protections for same-sex couples in states across the country. Every step forward will make it harder for the Supreme Court to rule that Prop. 8 and similar exclusions from marriage are consistent with the Constitution. That's why it's so essential to win more victories as critical same-sex marriage bills and relationships lawsuits are decided in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maryland, Montana and elsewhere. The ACLU is centrally involved in each of these efforts—and we need you to stand with us. The more victories we win, the harder it will be for extremists intent on blocking our progress to succeed.”
SDGLN Staff Writers Esther Rubio-Sheffrey and Ben Cartwright contributed to this report.