Here is today’s full Appeals Court decision upholding Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision to strike down Proposition 8, California’s same-sex marriage ban.
The first few passages summarize the findings and also speak to the narrowness of the ruling, which did not address “whether under the Constitution same-sex couples may ever be denied the right to marry.”
Although the Constitution permits communities to enact most laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently. There was no such reason that Proposition 8 could have been enacted. Because under California statutory law, same-sex couples had all the rights of opposite-sex couples, regardless of their marital status, all parties agree that Proposition 8 had one effect only. It stripped same-sex couples of the ability they previously possessed to obtain from the State, or any other authorized party, an important right–the right to obtain and use the designation of ‘marriage’ to describe their relationships. Nothing more, nothing less. Proposition 8 therefore could not have been enacted to advance California’s interests in child-rearing or responsible procreation, for it had no effect on the rights of same-sex couples to raise children or on the procreative practices of other couples. Nor did Proposition 8 have any effect on religious freedom or on parents’ rights to control their children’s education; it could not have been enacted to safeguard these liberties.
All that Proposition 8 accomplished was to take away from the same-sex couples the right to be granted marriage licenses and thus legally to use the designation of ‘marriage’, which symbolizes state legitimization and societal recognition of their committed relationships. 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. The Constitution simply does not allow for “laws of this sort.” Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620, 633
Broader issues have been urged for our consideration, but we adhere to the principle of deciding constitutional questions only in the context of the particular case before the Court,” Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629, 631 (1950). 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. It is currently a matter of great debate in our nation, and an issue over which people of good will may disagree, sometimes strongly. Of course, when questions of constitutional law are necessary to the resolution of a case, courts may not and should not abstain from deciding them simply because they are controversial. We need not and do not answer the broader question in this case, however, because California had already extended to committed same-sex couples both the incidents of marriage and the official designation of ‘marriage,’ and Proposition 8’s only effect was to take away that important and legally significant designation, while leaving in place all of its incidents. This unique and strictly limited effect of Proposition 8 allows us to address the amendment’s constitutionality on narrow grounds.
Thus, as a result of our “traditional” reluctance to extend constitutional interpretations to situations or facts which are not before the Court, much of the excellent research and detailed argument presented in th[is] case[ ] is unnecessary to [its] disposition.” Were we unable, however, to resolve the matter on the basis we do, we would not hesitate to process to the broader question–the constitutionality of denying same-sex couples the right to marry.
The Wall Street Journal has also pulled a few interesting passages, including this rather entertaining extract:
Had Marilyn Monroe’s film been called How to Register a Domestic Partnership with a Millionaire, it would not have conveyed the same meaning as did her famous movie, even though the underlying drama for same-sex couples is no different.
And this related to Prop 8 supporters’ motion that Judge Vaughn Walker’s original decision be nullified because Walker is himself in a long-term, same-sex relationship:
Finally, we address Proponents’ motion to vacate the district court’s judgment. On April 6, 2011, after resigning from the bench, former Chief Judge Walker disclosed he was gay and that he had for the past ten years been in a relationship with another man. Proponents moved shortly thereafter to vacate the judgment on the basis that 28 U.S.C. Sec. 455(b)(4) obligated Chief Judge Walker to recuse himself, because he had an “interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding,” and that 28 U.S.C. Sec. 455(a) obligated him either to recuse himself or to disclose his potential conflict, because his “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” . . .
The district court properly held that . . . Chief Judge Walker had no obligation to recuse himself . . . As Chief Judge Ware explained, the fact that a judge “could be affected by the outcome of a proceeding, in the same way that other members of the general public would be affected, is not a basis for either recusal or disqualification . . . “ Nor could it possibly be “reasonable to presume,” . . . “that a judge is incapable of making an impartial decision about the constitutionality of a law, solely because, as a citizen, the judge could be affected by the proceeding.” . . . To hold otherwise would demonstrate a lack of respect for the integrity of our federal courts.”
And more excerpts from AP:
By emphasizing Proposition 8’s limited effect, we do not mean to minimize the harm that this change in the law caused to same-sex couples and their families. To the contrary, we emphasize the extraordinary significance of the official designation of ‘marriage.’ That 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 desiring to enter into a committed lifelong relationship, a marriage by the name of ‘registered domestic partnership’ does not.”
It is implausible to think that denying two men or two women the right to call themselves married could somehow bolster the stability of families headed by one man and one woman.