A majority of Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that California Proposition 8 is unconstitutional because it violates Equal Protection Clause by targeting a minority group and withdrawing a previously-possessed right from them without a legitimate reason. After the California Supreme Court, in the case of In Re Marriage Cases (2008) 43 Cal.4th 757, ruled that the statutory language limiting marriage to heterosexual unions was unconstitutional, more than 18,000 marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples. California voters subsequently enacted Proposition 8, which, effective November 5, 2008, provided that only heterosexual marriages were valid or recognized in California and stripped the same-sex couples of their right to have their unions designated as marriages.
After unsuccessfully challenging the validity of Proposition 8 in California Supreme Court, two same-sex couples who had been denied marriage licenses filed an action in the U.S. District Court under 42 U.S.C. 1983 [civil rights violation], asserting that Proposition 8 violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and seeking a declaration that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, along with an injunction precluding its enforcement.
When governmental officials declined to argue in favor of Proposition 8, its proponents were allowed to intervene to defend it. Following a 12-day bench trial in which District Court heard from 19 witnesses, admitted evidence, and heard argument, District Court issued a detailed opinion, replete with 80 findings of fact and with relevant conclusions of law. District Court held that Proposition 8 violates the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution because denying same-sex couples the right to marry serves no compelling state interest, and that there was no rational basis for denying their unions the designation of marriage. Accordingly, District Court issued a permanent injunction precluding the application or enforcement of Article I, Section 7.5 of the California Constitution.
The Proposition 8 proponents appealed, and after receiving additional briefing on the issue of standing, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals certified the question of the proponents’ standing to defend Proposition 8 to California Supreme Court. In November of 2011, California Supreme Court issued its decision in Perry v. Brown (134 Cal.Rptr.3d 499), holding that proponents had standing to defend Proposition 8.
Now, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the District Court’s rulings. The Ninth Circuit Court has ruled that proponents have the standing to appeal the District Court’s rulings pursuant to California Supreme Court opinion. The Ninth Circuit majority has further ruled that (1) the only District Court finding applicable to their analysis is that domestic partnerships lack the social meaning associated with marriage and there is a meaningful difference between the two; (2) looked at most narrowly, the question is whether Proposition 8 singles out same-sex couples for unequal treatment by taking away the right to marry from them alone, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, which protects minority groups from being singled out for deprivation of existing rights without legitimate reason; (3) Proposition 8 took away from same-sex couples the right to the status and dignity of having their unions designated as marriages; (4) Proposition 8 is "remarkably similar" to a Colorado statute that attempted to prohibit state and political subdivisions from providing any protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and was found to be unconstitutional in the case of Romer (1996) 517 U.S. 620 [states may not enact laws that single out a certain class of citizens from disfavored legal status]; (5) reasons offered to explain Proposition 8 enactment are not rationally based and do not promote legitimate state interest (it has no effect on responsible procreation and child-rearing, has no connection with "proceeding with caution" regarding making changes to marriage definition, does not affect religious-liberty interests, and could not preclude schools from teaching about same-sex relationships); and (6) Proposition 8 has no apparent purpose but to impose a majority’s private disapproval on gays and lesbians and their relationships by denying them the official designation of marriage and relegating those relationships to inferior status. The Ninth Circuit majority has ruled that Proposition 8 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution by withdrawing a previously-possessed right from a minority group without a legitimate reason and is unconstitutional on that ground. The Ninth Circuit also affirmed the District Court’s denial of proponents’ motion to vacate Judge Walker’s judgment on the basis of his purported interest in being allowed to marry his same-sex partner.
In a concurring and dissenting opinion, Judge Smith agreed with the majority’s conclusions regarding proponents’ standing to appeal and regarding the denial of the motion to vacate. Judge Smith, however, dissented from the majority’s analysis regarding the constitutionality of Proposition 8 and would have found that denying same-sex couples the designation of marriage could be rationally related to the state’s interest in promoting responsible parenting and procreation.
The Ninth Circuit has stayed its ruling pending the appeal to the United States Supreme Court.