Same-sex marriage takes the day as court calls Prop. 8 unconstitutional


Same-sex marriage supporters march from UN Plaza to San Francisco City Hall on Tuesday. Photo by Steve Rhodes/SF Public Press

VIDEO: San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener reacts to court ruling Tuesday that Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, was unconstitutional

Same-sex marriage proponents celebrated an important victory Tuesday in San Francisco following the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.Backers of Proposition 8 were expected to appeal, either by asking for a review by a full panel of the court or by appealing directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ruling from a three-judge panel of the court, affirmed the 2010 Northern District Federal Court’s decision but also extended the stay on enforcement, which continues to bar any same-sex couples from marrying.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt concluded in his opinion that, “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 People,” he wrote, “may not employ the initiative power to single out a disfavored group for unequal treatment and strip them, without a legitimate justification, of a right as important as the right to marry.”

Supporters of Proposition 8 had little to celebrate following today’s ruling, apart from continuance of the stay and the possibility of a second appeal.

The three-judge panel — taking its direction from the California Supreme Court — has ruled that the backers of Proposition 8 do have the authority to appeal their ruling. Because neither the governor, nor the state attorney general, nor any other qualified state official has been willing to defend the proposition on behalf of California, the court allowed for the proposition’s original backers to do so.

The judges were unanimous in their decision that retired Chief Judge Vaughn Walker had no cause to recuse himself from the case and that his successor in the case ruled correctly on that matter.

The panel also stressed that their ruling was based on the strength and merits specific to this California case. The case has had several twists and turns, as California couples were denied the right to marry in 2008, after having been granted that right by the state some six months earlier.

The ruling explained: “By emphasizing Prop 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 recognize 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.”

The morning celebration at the steps of the James R. Browning Courthouse and the subsequent march to San Francisco’s City Hall were relatively small, with less than two hundred participants gathered at any point.

San Francisco District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener gave an immediate reaction to the ruling: “I’m ecstatic.”

“It’s one of those things that happens once in a while where we reaffirm our faith in the court system and the Constitution — that it recognizes that LGBT people are full citizens of this country,” Wiener said. “And so we need to celebrate this victory today, and look forward to full marriage equality in California, but then understand that we need to recommit ourselves to seeing this fight through to the end.”

Wiener also criticized last week’s ruling that a coalition of media organizations could not have access to trial recordings. That ruling was made based on the grounds that Judge Walker had assured the participants in the case that the recordings would not be released. Wiener said he hoped the recordings would be released.

“I think it’s important to have transparency in our court system, as with any other part of government,” he said. “We’ve been moving in that direction in recent decades, and it’s a gradual process. And hopefully we’ll get there eventually, where people can really see what goes on in our court system.”

In the morning, protesters against the ruling and same-sex marriage failed to turn out in large numbers, though at least one vocal opponent, not affiliated with any particular church, arrived at City Hall carrying his own portable audio system and a copy of the Bible. He repeatedly warned the celebrators to check themselves and follow Jesus.

Monica Chacon and Breana Hansen embrace on the steps of San Francisco City Hall on Tuesday. Photo by Steve Rhodes/SF Public Press