Prop. 8 unconstitutional, appeals court rules

Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that ended same-sex marriage in California, is unconstitutional, a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today.

“We consider whether that amendment violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the ruling states. “We conclude that it does.”

The ruling goes on to note that, contrary to the arguments of Proposition 8 defenders, the measure “could not have been enacted to advance California’s interests in childrearing 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.”

Noted the 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.”

The Queer Justice League is urging LGBT Atlantans and their allies to gather today at 4:30 p.m. at the corner of 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue, the former location of Outwrite Bookstore, to react to the decision. Participants are encouraged to bring signs.

The ruling, from a three-judge panel of the appeals court, could be appealed to either an 11-judge panel of the appeals court or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could decide to hear the case or let the lower court ruling stand.

The California Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that banning same-sex couples from marriage violated the state constitution. More than 18,000 gay couples were married in California before voters repealed same-sex marriage rights in November 2008.

The California Supreme Court upheld the amendment, but the American Foundation for Equal Rights filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8, led by high-profile attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies. The controversial case, filed as Perry vs. Schwarzenegger and now known as Perry vs. Brown, is widely expected to eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

The gay marriage advocates won the first round, when U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled in August 2010 that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

“Proposition 8 singles out gays and lesbians and legitimates their unequal treatment,” Walker ruled, noting that it “perpetuates the stereotype that gays and lesbians are incapable of forming long-term loving relationships and that gays and lesbians are not good parents.”

Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and then-Attorney General Jerry Brown refused to challenge Walker’s ruling, but backers of the ballot initiative — called Protect Marriage — appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Brown is now governor of California.

A three-judge panel of the federal appeals court — made up of Judges Stephen Reinhardt (appointed by President Carter), Randy Smith (appointed by President George W. Bush) and Michael Hawkins (appointed by President Clinton) — heard arguments in the case on Dec. 6, 2010.

The federal panel then asked the California Supreme Court to weigh in on whether the ballot measure backers had standing to defend Proposition 8.

The California high court ruled unanimously in November 2011 that the backers could defend the case.

Backers of Proposition 8 have also asked that Walker’s ruling be thrown out because Walker, came out as gay and in a longterm relationship after he retired.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge James Ware ruled against the claim, noting that gay judges are “entitled to all the presumptions about impartiality and fairness as other judges,” but the Prop 8 backers appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as well.

A copy of the Ninth Circuit ruling was posted online shortly after the official decision was released:

Top photo: Atlantans rally for Proposition 8 (file photo)