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Ninth Circuit Declares California's Proposition 8 on Marriage Unconstitutional

A panel ruled that a proposition to define marriage as between a man and a woman violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

A federal appeals court ruled that California's Proposition 8 defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman is unconstitutional. A three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit ruled that California's state constitutional amendment violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The 2-1 decision is likely to be appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Proposition 8 serves 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," Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the majority. The opinion rejected arguments that the proposition advanced the state's interests in child-rearing, procreation, education, or religious freedom.

Photo by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Photo by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Judge Michael Daly Hawkins (appointed by President Clinton) agreed with Reinhardt's opinion.

Judge Randy Smith (appointed by President George W. Bush) dissented, at least in part, to the majority decision. Smith said that Proposition 8 is "rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest" because it "preserves the fundamental and historical purposes of marriage." However, Smith disagreed with proponents who said the state had an interest in promoting child-rearing by opposite-sex couples as the best family structure for children.

National Organization for Marriage (NOM) president Brian Brown said the decision "was as predictable as the outcome of a Harlem Globetrotters exhibition game."

"We have anticipated this outcome since the moment San Francisco Judge Vaughn Walker's first hearing in the case. Now we have the field cleared to take this issue to the US Supreme Court, where we have every confidence we will prevail," Brown said.

According to the panel, one of the key issues was that Proposition 8 rescinded the right to marry. The Court said that because same-sex couples were able to marry and then were prohibited from doing so, the purpose of Proposition 8 was to take away a right, which is different from not allowing same-sex marriage in the first place.

Bruce Hausknecht, judicial analyst at Focus on the Family, said in a statement, "Opponents of Prop 8 insist on changing the definition of marriage for everyone, including children who deserve the opportunity to grow up in a home with their own married mother and father."

The panel, including Smith, unanimously rejected the legal argument that families should have a mother and a father.

"Plantiffs argue that the optimal parenting rationale cannot be a legitimate governmental interest because same-sex couples in domestic partnerships have all the substantive parenting rights opposite-sex couples in marriage enjoy. Additionally, California family law does not give any official preferences to opposite-sex parenting," wrote Smith. "Proposition 8 does not change this factual situation."

Smith agreed with the other two judges on one key point. The panel unanimously denied a motion to have the original opinion vacated. Judges rejected the argument from proponents of the proposition who asked that the original decision be vacated because Chief Judge Walker is gay and had a conflict of interest because he could now marry his partner.

Proponents of Proposition 8 can now appeal to either the full 9th Circuit or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is widely expected that they will choose the quicker route and appeal directly to the high court.

Previous coverage of Proposition 8 and the courts include:

Why the Proposition 8 Decision Matters | That Judge Walker's ruling is not a surprise does not make it any less of a landmark. (Al Mohler, August 5, 2010)

What Is the Gospel Response to the Prop. 8 Decision? (August 9, 2010)

Prop. 8 Ruled Unconstitutional (August 4, 2010)

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