California is under the purview of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Which means that I was pleased, but not surprised, at this:
A federal appeals court has declared California’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, paving the way for a likely U.S. Supreme Court showdown on the voter-approved law.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that a lower court judge correctly interpreted the U.S. Constitution when he declared in 2010 that Proposition 8 was a violation of the civil rights of gays and lesbians.
“Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples,” said Judge Stephen Reinhardt in the majority opinion. “The Constitution simply does not allow for ‘laws of this sort’.”
Now, it’s a narrow ruling, focused on the unique fact that California allowed gay marriage before it was banned by Proposition 8, meaning that rights had been taken away from a group of citizens. Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog:
The majority summed up its ruling this way: “By using their initiative power to target a minority group and withdraw a right that it possessed, without a legitimate reason for doing so, the people of California violated the Equal Protection Clause [of the federal Constitution]. We hold Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional on this ground.”
The opinion contained frequent references to a 1996 Supreme Court ruling, Romer v. Evans, which ruled unconstitutional a state constitutional amendment in Colorado that took away from gays and lesbians political rights that they had shared with other citizens. The Romer decision was written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who very likely would hold a pivotal vote on same-sex marriage if and when that issue reaches the Supreme Court. Kennedy was also the author of a broader gay rights ruling in 2003,Lawrence v. Texas; there, the Court ruled that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right of privacy to engage privately in sexual activity by consent among adults. That Kennedy opinion, though, said the Court was not taking a position then on same-sex marriage.
By fashioning what it considered to be a narrow ruling, the Circuit Court went some distance toward insulating its ruling from being overturned either by the en banc Circuit Court or by the Supreme Court. However, because it assures a renewed right to marry in the nation’s most populous state, the ruling will be viewed at all levels of the court system as at least a partial assurance of equality to join in a revered social institution — one that many conservative observers believe to be under major stresses of modern life.
My earlier take on gay marriage here.