9th Circuit Upholds Judge Walker’s Prop 8 Decision

Court strikes down Prop 8 on narrow equal protection grounds

by Brian Leubitz

It probably isn’t the decision that we would like, but it is sure better than the alternative.  In a narrow decision, Judge Reinhardt held Prop 8 unconstitutional as denying equal protection under the law.  However, this decision does not issue a blanked declaration that marriage bans are inherently unconstitutional in their own right.  You can read the full decision over the flip or at this link.

That being said, the 2-1 decision was mostly positive.  Judge Walker’s findings of fact, which you can read on a footnote on Page 18 of the decision, were not disputed.  The standard for changing these findings of fact is substantially higher than for the legal conclusions, but the maintenance of those facts is nonetheless important and notable.  And of course, there is the fact that the 9th Circuit ruled that Prop 8 was unconstitutional, which is pretty great.  However, I am guessing that AFER and Boies/Olson would have preferred an answer on the broader question of legality of same-sex marriage bans.  But that was not to be today:

Whether under the Constitution same-sex couples may ever be denied the right to marry, a right that has long been enjoyed by opposite-sex couples, is an important and highly controversial question. We need not and do not answer the broader question in this case.

And so, citizens of other states must wait in line for the time being. Metaphorically, I suppose, because the 9th Circuit also put a stay on the decision, so no marriages will proceed right away.  But the Supreme Court can review this decision in any way they would like to. They could address that broader question if they so decide. Perhaps they’d prefer to rip the band-aid off in one grand gesture, or maybe we’ll wait for that.  The Supreme Court won’t make its decision on whether to hear the case for a few months, so Court watchers will be left guessing.

All that being said, you can’t help but smile when you realize that an appellate court sees the real injustice in this inequality. Check out page 37 and the subsequent pages for a rather heartfelt statement of the importance of marriage in our community.

The designation is important because ‘marriage’ is the name that society gives to the relationship that matters most between two adults. A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but to the couple designing to enter into a committed lifelong relationship, a marriage by the name of ‘registered domestic partnership’ does not.

Furthmore, when Reinhardt gets to his conclusion, it is stark and simple:

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.

Reinhardt ultimately wrote the opinion for an audience of 9.  By limiting his opinion, it has a stronger chance of standing up, and possibly even inspiring Justice Kennedy to end marriage discrimination forever.

9th Cir Prop 8 decision