Gay marriage: Court ruling on Prop. 8 has far-reaching implications
More than three years after California voters approved a ban on same-sex marriage, an appeals court on Tuesday is set to decide whether Proposition 8 violates the federal Constitution.
During oral arguments more than a year ago, the three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals appeared to be leaning toward ruling against Proposition 8 but expressed concern about procedural matters.
Rallies are planned across California after the judges hand down their decision.
The judges on the Proposition 8 panel are Stephen Reinhardt, an appointee of former President Carter; Michael Daly Hawkins, an appointee of former President Clinton; and N. Randy Smith, appointed by former President George W. Bush.
Two same-sex couples challenged Proposition 8 just days before the California Supreme Court upheld it as a valid state constitutional amendment. The suit led to a historic federal trial that examined the nature of sexual orientation, the history of marriage, and discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Retired Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker presided over the trial and ruled against Proposition 8 in 2010, but the 9th Circuit issued a stay to put his ruling on hold pending appeals.
The stay could remain in place even if the panel rules against Proposition 8. If the panel lifts the stay, backers of Proposition 8 could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate it.
The losing party can appeal the ruling to a larger panel of the 9th Circuit, which would delay U.S. Supreme Court review for many months or longer, or go directly to the high court. The sponsors of Proposition 8, ProtectMarriage, have said they were eager to get to the high court as soon as possible.
"Either side that loses would want to read the opinion and look at the vote count before making an en banc decision," said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Irvine Law School.
The court's decision would have no immediate effect on other states within the 9th Circuit, lawyers said Monday. Even if Proposition 8 is struck down and the stay lifted, marriage bans in other states would probably continue until challenged or until state officials refused to recognize them, attorneys said.
“We are very hopeful that the 9th Circuit will rule in favor of fairness and equality, once and for all putting an end to Prop. 8’s exclusion of loving, committed couples from marriage,” John Lewis, legal director of Marriage Equality USA, said in a statement.
-- Maura Dolan in San Francisco
Photo: Groups for and against Proposition 8 face off in Santa Ana in 2008. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times