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The importance of the decision handed down yesterday by U. S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker in California's Proposition 8 trial will be difficult to exaggerate. Proponents of same-sex marriage immediately declared a major victory—and for good reason. The editorial board of The New York Times declared the verdict "an instant landmark in American legal history," and so it is, even if later reversed upon appeal.

Judge Walker's decision is sweeping and comprehensive, basically affirming every argument and claim put forth by those demanding that California's Proposition 8 be declared unconstitutional. That proposition, affirmed by a clear majority of California voters, amended the state's constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. In one brazen act of judicial energy, California's voters were told that they had no right to define marriage, and thousands of years of human wisdom were discarded as irrational.

Even as the case is immediately appealed, the reality is that a Federal court has now declared that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. Pressing beyond this verdict, Judge Walker also released a set of "findings" that include some of the most radical statements about marriage yet encountered.

In rendering his verdict, Judge Walker declared that California's Proposition 8 violates both the equal protection and due process rights of homosexual citizens. The proposition, he concluded, "fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license." He continued: "Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples."

In order to reach this conclusion, Judge Walker provided more than 100 pages of legal reasoning, based on the evidence that he allowed or accepted. On page after page, Judge Walker arbitrarily accepted the claims put forth by proponents of same-sex marriage as rational, and declares the evidence and arguments put forth by the defenders of Proposition 8 as lacking in any rational basis.

The decision handed down Wednesday in San Francisco comes with virtually no surprise. Judge Walker's statements and rulings in the course of the trial proceedings pointed directly to the decision released yesterday.

This decision, whatever its final resolution, serves as an undeniable reminder of the power of Federal judges. A single unelected judge nullified the will of the voters of California as expressed through the electoral process. Those who have been arguing that judicial activism is a fiction will have to look this decision in the face. The New York Times celebrated Judge Walker's usurpation of the political process, arguing that "there are times when legal opinions help lead public opinions." The paper and the proponents of same-sex marriage clearly hope that this is one of those times.

That is clearly the most significant dimension of the verdict. Judge Walker's decision, bearing the full force of a Federal court, adds to the sense of inevitability that the proponents of same-sex marriage have been so carefully constructing in recent years. Defenders of marriage as a heterosexual institution should resist the temptation to minimize the significance of this decision, even as the verdict is vigorously appealed. Yesterday's ruling is a huge win for the homosexual community, and a significant step toward the full normalization of homosexuality within the culture.

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Why the Proposition 8 Decision Matters