California Gay Marriage Ban Overturned

fromKQED

A federal judge has struck down Proposition 8, the California ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage, ruling that it is unconstitutional. The ruling sets the stage for a battle across America to play out in the U.S. Supreme Court.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

An unwritten rule of politics is that nothing is ever over; no decision is ever quite final. And that is certainly true with yesterday's big federal court ruling in California.

MONTAGNE: A judge struck down California's ban on same-sex marriage. If straight people have the right to marry, he says, so do gays and lesbians.

INSKEEP: The case now goes to an appeals court and the court of public opinion - as we'll hear in a moment.

We begin with Mina Kim of member station KQED.

MINA KIM: Several hundred gathered at a park in West Hollywood last night, to hear from the attorneys who successfully argued against Proposition 8, Ted Olson, and here, David Boies.

Mr. DAVID BOIES (Plaintiff's Attorney): There is only one group of our citizens that is, today, subject to official state-sponsored, state-enforced discrimination...

Unidentified Woman: Yeah.

Mr. BOIES: ...and those are our gay and lesbian citizens and the children that they raise. And today, the state of California said not in California.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

KIM: Earlier in the day, outside the federal courthouse in San Francisco, word of the ruling inspired gay marriage proponents to break out in song.

About 50 people were there celebrating what many seemed to expect - a ruling from U.S. District Court Judge, Vaughn Walker, striking down the Prop. 8 ban on same-sex marriage.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) No not just for some, but for everyone.

(Soundbite of cheering)

KIM: But a handful of supporters of Prop. 8, like Victor Choban(ph), also gathered at the San Francisco courthouse to express disapproval of the ruling.

Mr. VICTOR CHOBAN: It's sad that California still struggles with it, with such an issue that is clear to a little child, that he has to have a mom and a dad. I'm sad because I know what this means. It means God is turning against, more and more, against California.

KIM: Minutes after his ruling, Judge Walker put it on hold to give attorneys on both sides the chance to weigh in on whether he should stay the ruling pending appeal in the Ninth Circuit.

As the prospect of a long legal battle loomed, the mood was both triumphant and subdued, at a press conference with the plaintiffs in the case: two same-sex couples who sued for the right to marry their partners.

Plaintiff Jeffrey Zarillo became tearful as he described the ruling as bringing him and his partner closer to equality with heterosexual couples.

Mr. JEFFREY ZARILLO (Plaintiff): We understand that this decision is just the beginning and we're on our way to the Supreme Court, but I - we know that we have the law, the incredible people you see behind you and so many more, on our side.

KIM: In his lengthy 136-page ruling, Judge Walker found that the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage violated the constitutional rights of due process and equal protection, and prevented California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis.

Daniel Blumberg, one of the attorneys that argued for the marriage ban, vowed to appeal the ruling.

Mr. DANIEL BLUMBERG (Defense Attorney): Basically his ruling here, is that those seven million people and the millions of Americans like them, the majority of Americans like them across the country, who made their votes, who cast their votes to protect the definition of marriage, were irrational when they did that.

KIM: Much of Walker's conclusions are on issues that are open to multiple interpretations. That's according to UC Davis law Professor Vikram Amar. The definition of rational, for one, says Amar. Also, whether same-sex couples are invoking an existing right to marry or trying to expand it.

Professor VIKRAM AMAR (Associate Dean, Academic Affairs, UC Davis Law School): On all those key questions, the Ninth Circuit, I think, is going to feel pretty free to revisit those issues on its own and not have to pay a lot of deference to what Judge Walker said or did.

KIM: Amar says he doesn't think it's a given that the case will come before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Prof. AMAR: I think the Supreme Court will weigh in, only if the Ninth Circuit invalidates Prop. 8. if the Ninth Circuit reverses Judge Walker, I'm not sure the U.S. Supreme Court will be in any hurry to get into this thicket.

KIM: If the Ninth Circuit does uphold Walker's ruling, UCLA Constitutional Law Professor, Eugene Volokh, says he's almost certain that the U.S. Supreme Court will want to make the final ruling.

Professor EUGENE VOLOKH (Constitutional Law, UCLA School of Law): Because I think they'll conclude that something as momentous as telling the citizens of many states that their opposite sex marriage only rules are unconstitutional, should be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

KIM: Volokh says he thinks the current makeup of the Supreme Court will likely disagree with Judge Walker.

For now, attorneys on both sides have until Friday to file arguments on whether Walker's decision should be stayed pending appeal. That means same-sex couples in California are still prohibited from marrying.

For NPR news, I'm Mina Kim in San Francisco.

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