Judge Overturns California Gay Marriage Ban

A federal judge has overturned California's ban on same-sex marriage. U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker made his ruling in a lawsuit filed by two gay couples who claimed the voter-approved ballot measure, Proposition 8, violated their civil rights. The ruling sets the stage for a battle across America to play out in the U.S. Supreme Court. Melissa Block talks to NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News, I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution - that's the ruling today from a federal judge in San Francisco. Judge Vaughn Walker struck down the measure known as Proposition 8. It is a huge victory for supporters of gay rights, not just in California but across the country, but the legal battle is far from over.

NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates joins us from our California bureau in Culver City. And Karen, let's go back over the history here. Prop 8 passed back in 2008 with a 52 percent margin. Now, Judge Walker has overturned that. What did he say in his ruling?

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Well, Melissa, I'm going to give it to you in his own words, which comes from part of his ruling. He says that Prop 8, quote, "fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for the denial of a marriage license." He went on to say it creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation. And he also said the proposition enshrines in the California constitution the notion that the opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. And because of that, he says Prop 8 is unconstitutional.

BLOCK: Now, this decision today came after a lawsuit filed by two gay couples and by the city of San Francisco, where same-sex marriages were being performed. What kind of reaction has there been since the ruling today?

GRIGSBY BATES: Well, here's some tape, Melissa, from two people who were celebrating today's ruling - Chad Griffin, who was a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Prop 8, and Ted Olson, the former U.S. solicitor general in the Bush administration, who was part of the legal team that was challenging Prop 8.

Mr. CHAD GRIFFIN: Today's decision affirms that under the Constitution, a government of the people, by the people, and for the people cannot discriminate against the people.

Mr. TED OLSON (Former U.S. Solicitor General): We have other battles ahead of us, but with this decision, carefully analyzing evidence, we are well on our way toward an ultimate victory, and that nothing could be better for the American people, the people of California, and in particular, the people of San Francisco.

GRIGSBY BATES: So, obviously, that's a huge victory for marriage equality advocates and a very bitter disappointment for people who believe that marriage should be reserved for one man and one woman.

We did have reaction from Brian Raum, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, which was a partner in defending Prop 8. What he basically said after the ruling was, in America we should respect and uphold the right of a free people to make policy choices through the democratic process. And, obviously, they felt that the process was compromised today.

BLOCK: Karen, what are the implications of this ruling in California today?

GRIGSBY BATES: A federal judge decided it, for one thing, so that means that it will certainly be appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court now. It may even go on to the Supreme Court, although many legal observers are saying that the Supreme Court will in all likelihood decline to hear it and bounce it back to the states because they think the states ought to work it out. And also because, frankly, it's a pretty sticky issue.

BLOCK: So, in the meantime, is it now legal for gay couples in California to get married?

GRIGSBY BATES: Not yet. The judge has issued a stay. This was a request from Prop 8 proponents, who announced earlier that they'd appeal if the ruling went against them. Now it has, so you can suspect that they will appeal within the next 60 days.

But the judge will probably want to do a little more research. We'll hear what happens after that. I mean, the supposition is eventually, marriages, same-sex unions will be able to continue but if you wanted to get married tonight, you won't be able to.

BLOCK: And tell us just a bit more about the judge in this case, Vaughn Walker.

GRIGSBY BATES: He's a really interesting guy, Melissa. He was appointed by the first President Bush - George H. W. Bush. He is generally considered to be very thoughtful, very thorough. And he's gay. He's gay and out. And it doesn't seem to be an issue for anybody, including the supporters of Proposition 8, because when it was announced that Judge Walker was the judge who'd been assigned this case, they did not ask that he be recused from it. They didn't think that he'd have a conflict in overseeing it. And that's pretty interesting.

BLOCK: Okay, Karen, thanks very much.

GRIGSBY BATES: You're welcome.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates, reporting on today's federal court ruling that overturns Prop 8, which had banned same-sex marriage in California.

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