PALM SPRINGS – Local supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage will get a ruling next year from the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved measure that restricted weddings to between a man and a woman.
The nation’s highest court announced today that it would weigh in on the battle over Proposition 8, which was enacted by voters in 2008 but was deemed unconstitutional earlier this year by a federal appeals court panel. The panel found that the initiative was at odds with the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.
The Supreme Court was expected to hear arguments on the issue in March, with a decision likely by June.
”This is a strong step forward which will allow the Supreme Court to end the discriminatory principles of DOMA and to support the lower court ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional,” said Ron deHarte, president of Greater Palm Springs Pride. ”We are confident the court will support equality and put an end to DOMA and bring about marriage equality for all.”
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who has a residence in Rancho Mirage, said in a statement she hopes the high court finds that both Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act ”violate the promise of equal protection guaranteed by the Constitution.”
”I believe support for marriage equality keeps growing stronger nationwide because it is a matter of fairness and justice,” she said.
According to her office, Boxer was one of 14 senators who voted against DOMA in 1996 and is cosponsoring legislation to repeal it.
In March 2000, California voters approved Prop. 22, which specified in state law that only marriages between a man and a woman are valid in California. But in May of 2008, the state Supreme Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional because it discriminated against gays. An estimated 18,000 same-sex couples got married in the ensuing months.
Opponents of same-sex marriage quickly got Prop. 8 on the November 2008 ballot, and it was approved by a margin of 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent. The approval was followed by statewide protests and lawsuits challenging Prop. 8’s legality.
In May of 2009 the California Supreme Court upheld Prop. 8 but also ruled that the unions of roughly 18,000 same-sex couples who were wed in 2008 prior to its passage would remain valid.
Same-sex marriage supporters took their case to federal court, and U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled in August 2010 that Proposition 8 ”both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation.”
Backers of Proposition 8 — ProtectMarriage.com — appealed to the 9th Circuit because then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and then-Attorney General Jerry Brown declined to do so. The appellate court heard arguments last year but put a decision on hold while it awaited the state Supreme Court’s ruling on the ability of Prop. 8 backers to press the case forward.
Once the state Supreme Court had decided that Prop. 8 supporters had legal standing, the 9th Circuit moved ahead with its consideration of the case, hearing arguments last December on a motion by Prop. 8 backers asking that Vaughn’s ruling be thrown out because the judge was in a long-term same-sex relationship that he had not disclosed.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in February that the proposition’s primary impact was to ”lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California.””It stripped same-sex couples of the ability they previously possessed to obtain and use the designation of ‘marriage’ to describe their relationships,” according to the court’s decision. ”Nothing more, nothing less. Proposition 8 therefore could not have been enacted to advance California’s interests in child-rearing or responsible procreation, for it had no effect on the rights of same-sex couples to raise children or on the procreative practices of other couples.”
”Nor did Proposition 8 have any effect on religious freedom or on parents’ rights to control their children’s education; it could not have been enacted to safeguard those liberties,” the court held.
In addition to Proposition 8, the U.S. Supreme Court also agreed to review the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which was enacted in 1996 and defined marriage solely as a union between opposite-sex couples.