This nation still has far to go to overcome one of the great remaining barriers to full equality and fairness. But a federal appeals court panel brought it a big step closer this week, with a well-grounded ruling that struck down a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in California.
The 2-1 ruling upheld a 2010 decision by Judge Vaughn Walker, which declared unconstitutional the marriage ban, Proposition 8. Like Judge Walker, the court panel found that the anti-gay initiative, which California voters narrowly approved in 2008, violated the equal-protection rights of same-sex couples.
The appellate panel stopped short of finding a broad constitutional right to marry that would have extended same-sex marriage to every state. Instead, the ruling follows a conservative, California-centered judicial approach that is less satisfying but will make it exceedingly hard to attack on the expected appeal.
The panel rejected arguments that Proposition 8 advanced California's interests in promoting child-bearing and "responsible procreation." The judges noted that it had no impact on the rights of same-sex couples in the state to raise or adopt children.
Drawing heavily on a 1996 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned an anti-gay initiative in Colorado, the panel found the initiative violated the equal- protection clause of the Constitution. It said Proposition 8 singled out a minority group and took away the right to marry, which it possessed in California, "without a legitimate reason for doing so."
Proposition 8 served only 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," wrote Judge Stephen Reinhardt. He said "the Constitution simply does not allow for" such laws. All three panel members agreed Judge Walker was not disqualified from ruling because he is a gay man in a committed relationship.
This week's ruling adds important momentum to the fight for marriage equality in other states, in Congress, and in important lawsuits that challenge the injustice of the Defense of Marriage Act, the law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in states where such unions are legal. There is still a long way to go, but the outlook now is considerably brighter.
-- New York Times