Landmark day in gay marriage battle: Celebrations, vows to fight
A federal appeals court Tuesday overturned California's Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage, in a narrow ruling that opponents hailed as historic and supporters immediately vowed to appeal.
The limited, California-only approach adopted by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals means the U.S. Supreme Court might choose to steer clear of the dispute.
Meanwhile, the court left in place a stay preventing same-sex marriages from resuming in California.
The 2-1 decision found that the voters, in approving Proposition 8 in 2008, unfairly took away a right from a minority group.
"The people 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," the panel majority said.
The court said the term "marriage" carries "extraordinary significance."
"That designation is important because marriage is the name that society gives to the relationship that matters most between two adults," the court said. "A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but to the couple desiring to enter into a committed lifelong relationship, a marriage by the name of 'registered domestic partnership' does not."
"Groucho Marx's one-liner, 'Marriage is a wonderful institution … but who wants to live in an institution?' would lack its punch if the word 'marriage' were replaced with the alternative phrase," the court said.
ProtectMarriage.com, which defended Proposition 8 with the help of Christian legal allies from the Alliance Defense Fund, immediately proclaimed their intention to appeal the 9th Circuit decision.
Attorneys for the two organizations fighting to retain the definition of legal marriage in California as only between a man and a woman said they expected to have to carry the case forward from the 9th Circuit, deeming the ruling Tuesday the result of "a Hollywood and San Francisco attack on marriage."
ADF attorney Brian Raum said the Proposition 8 supporters hadn't yet decided whether to ask that a full 11-judge panel of the 9th Circuit reconsider the case or take their request for review and reversal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The justices in Washington accept only about 1% of the cases appealed to them each year. Analysts were divided over whether the high court would grant review of the Proposition 8 ruling, with some saying the time is ripe for the justices to weigh in on whether there is a constitutional right to marry a same-sex partner and others seeing the 9th Circuit ruling as so narrowly tailored to the California case as to require no review.
In a press conference held in a former cathedral in downtown Los Angeles, lawyers opposed to Proposition 8 praised the court's decision. They were flanked by the plaintiffs, a lesbian couple from Berkeley and a gay couple from Burbank, and the plaintiffs' children and families.
Attorney Ted Olson called it "an important legal precedent for other courts throughout the United States."
"When you take away a right that has been granted to the people … on the basis of sexual orientation, that is discrimination," he said. "This is an important step. We are not at the end of the line yet. But I cannot overstate the importance of the decision today."
-- Maura Dolan in San Francisco, and Carol Williams and Jessica Garrison in Los Angeles
Photo: West Hollywood Mayor John J. Duran, left, celebrates with activists Shawn Mimbs, center, and James Duke after a news conference about the Proposition 8 ruling Tuesday in West Hollywood. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times