Gay Marriage Goes to the US Supreme Court

Gay marriage decision comes to the Supreme Court in 2013. Image by Ayla87

On December 7, 2012, The United States Supreme Court decided it will hear two cases dealing with gay marriage.

The Supreme court has agreed to determine the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8.

Proposition 8 provided an amendment to California’s Constitution to limit marriage in the state to the union of one man and one woman.

The decisions of the Supreme Court could determine the validity of gay marriages in California, New York State and potentially the entire country.

California’s Proposition 8: Legal Challenge

Prior to November 2008, the California Constitution guaranteed the rights of all couples, same-sex as well as opposite-sex, to marry. Prior to the 2008 election, however, opponents obtained the required signatures to put a question on the ballot.

Known as Proposition 8, the ballot initiative proposed that the state’s constitution be amended by adding the following, “Only marriage between a man and woman is valid or recognized in California.” On November 4, 2008, the initiative passed with 52% of voters approving the amendment and 48% of voters voting against it.

In May 2009, two same-sex couples filed a lawsuit after they were refused marriage licenses. The defendants were four state officials including the Governor and the Attorney General as well as two clerks with the City and County of San Francisco. On August 4, 2012, after a twelve day trial, Vaughn Walker, Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California handed down his decision – he ruled Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.

The judge found the amendment violated the Due Process Clause of the Constitution because there was no compelling state interest in preventing gay and lesbian couples from marrying. He also ruled that Proposition 8 went against the Equal Protection Clause because there was no rational basis for excluding same-sex couples from marriage.

The case was appealed to the United States Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit. In a 2-1 decision rendered on February 7, 2012, the appellate court upheld Judge Walker’s finding that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. The majority agreed there was no compelling interest in denying marriage to same sex couples who had that right prior to the passage of Proposition 8. Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Reinhardt wrote,

All that Proposition 8 accomplished was to take away from same-sex couples the right to be granted marriage licenses and thus legally to use the designation of ‘marriage’ which symbolizes state legitimization and societal recognition of their committed relationships. 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. The Constitution does not allow for laws of this sort.

Click to Read Page Two: Legal Challenges to Fed’s DOMA

© Copyright 2012 Arthur Weinreb, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Science
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  1. Alexis says

    You missed an important possibility — the Supreme Court could rule that DOMA is unconstitutional but that each state is still free to decide for itself whether to permit same-sex marriage, given that historically states have had a wide diversity of marriage laws. (Prop 8 in California is unique in that it took away a marriage right that had been previously granted by the state; that is why nullifying Prop. 8 without establishing an overall right to same-sex marriage is the most likely outcome.]

  2. says

    It is not the courts’ job to uphold the precise will of the majority of the people. That’s what elections are for. The job of the courts is to uphold the Constitution, regardless of whether the necessary decisions fall in line with the will of the majority. It is up to the judges to determine, without bias from the rest of the population, what constitutes equality under the law, or equal protection. It seems more than obvious to me that to exclude Gays from the institution of marriage is a clear violation of any notion of “equality,” and I have yet to see anyone dispute that on a rational level. Therefore, it is not “activism” on the part of judges to declare that Gay and Straight couples should be treated equally under the law, rather it is an example of judges performing their rightful duty.

    As California Judge Vaughn Walker said in his decision overturning Proposition 8: “Permitting same-sex couples to marry will not affect the number of opposite-sex couples who marry, divorce, cohabit, have children outside of marriage or otherwise affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages.”

    This was a view shared by courts in the Golinski case against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), where a Bush appointee in the Northern District of California concurred: “The exclusion of same-sex couples from the federal definition of marriage does nothing to encourage or strengthen opposite-sex marriages.”

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