Calif. same-sex marriage ban ruled unconstitutional

Published: February 7, 2012

A federal appeals panel in San Francisco ruled Tuesday that California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, a decision that could lead to the Supreme Court’s consideration of the controversial social issue.

By a 2 to 1 vote, the panel overturned the proposition, which was approved by 52 percent of the state’s voters in 2008 and amended the state’s Constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman.

“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,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt. “The Constitution simply does not allow for laws of this sort.”

Reinhardt, a Jimmy Carter appointee considered one of the nation’s most liberal appellate judges, was joined by Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, appointed by President Bill Clinton. Judge N. Randy Smith, a conservative appointed by President George W. Bush, dissented.

The court took a narrow route in knocking down the same-sex marriage ban, and did not address the issue of whether the Constitution protects the rights of all same-sex couples to marry.

Instead, it focused on the fact that same-sex couples in the state for a brief time had the right to marry, and that Proposition 8 took that away. About 18,000 same-sex couples married during a five-month period after the California Supreme Court found such a right in the state constitution and before Proposition 8 passed.

“By using their initiative power to target a minority group and withdraw a right that it possessed, without a legitimate reason for doing so, the people of California violated the Equal Protection Clause” of the federal Constitution, Reinhardt wrote.

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