A federal judge in California has struck down that state's ban on same-sex marriage, saying Proposition 8, passed by voters two years ago, is unconstitutional.
Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's decision
on Prop 8 is hardly the final word in the matter. Both sides had said they would appeal the ruling if it wasn't in their favor. The case would go first to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and eventually to the Supreme Court, if the justices agreed to review it.
Walker wrote that the law "fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license."
"Plaintiffs challenge Proposition 8 under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment," he noted. "Each challenge is independently meritorious, as Proposition 8 both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation."
To read Walker's complete ruling click here.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the judicial process, saying "all viewpoints were respected throughout the proceedings."
"For the hundreds of thousands of Californians in gay and lesbian households who are managing their day-to-day lives, this decision affirms the full legal protections and safeguards I believe everyone deserves," Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "At the same time, it provides an opportunity for all Californians to consider our history of leading the way to the future, and our growing reputation of treating all people and their relationships with equal respect and dignity."
The nation's largest gay rights group, The Human Rights Campaign, hailed the judge's decision.
"After hearing extensive evidence in support of marriage equality, and essentially no defense of the discrimination wrought by Prop 8, Judge Walker reached the same conclusion we have always known to be true -- the Constitution's protections are for all Americans, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community," HRC President Joe Solmonese said in a news release. "We thank the courageous plaintiff couples, the American Foundation for Equal Rights, and attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies for their tremendous efforts leading to today's decision and their ongoing commitment as the case moves forward on appeal."
Olson and Boies argued the plaintiffs case -- 10 years after they were on opposite sides of the Supreme Court battle between George W. Bush and Al Gore over the Florida presidential vote recount.
Prop 8's sponsors filed papers Tuesday in anticipation of losing. They asked Walker, if he were to rule against them, to leave the ban intact while they appeal.
Perry v. Schwarzenegger is the first federal court case to determine if states can prohibit gays from getting married without violating the constitutional guarantee of equality. The lawsuit, brought by two same-sex couples and the city of San Francisco, claimed that Prop 8 infringes the civil rights of gay men and lesbians.
Proposition 8 was approved by 52 percent of voters in November 2008. The ballot measure followed the state Supreme Court's legalization of same-sex marriage five months earlier. Supporters said Prop 8 was necessary to safeguard traditional marriage and to encourage responsible childbearing. Opponents said that such concerns were not sufficient grounds to discriminate against gay couples.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Walker, 66, is openly gay
. But the Republican appointee has drawn criticism from gay activists for representing the U.S. Olympic Committee in a trademark lawsuit two decades ago against the Gay Olympics.