Southland supporters of same-sex marriage were celebrating Wednesday, with the U.S. Supreme Court clearing the way for same-sex unions to resume in California, although the high court fell short of setting a precedent that would legalize gay marriage across the country.
In a 5-4 ruling, the court found that backers of Proposition 8—- which was approved by California voters in 2008 and banned same-sex marriage—lacked legal standing to challenge a lower court ruling that found the measure unconstitutional.
“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” according to the court’s ruling, penned by Chief Justice John Roberts. “We decline to do so for the first time here.”
Roberts was joined in the majority by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Antonin Scalia.
Since Proposition 8 supporters had no standing, the court did not issue a ruling on the merits of same-sex marriage or Prop. 8, but merely let stand the original federal court ruling striking down the measure. The Supreme Court’s action means same-sex marriage will be legal in California, but not across the nation.
The nation’s highest court also struck down a key portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which was enacted in 1996 and defined marriage solely as a union between opposite-sex couples. The court ruled that the act was unconstitutional by denying federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, which supports Prop. 8, said the rulings were an attack on the institution of marriage.
“The high courts’ refusal to correct the unconstitutional rulings of lower-court judges and the dereliction of duty by constitution-bound state officials demonstrates that not only is natural, man-woman marriage no longer respected, but neither is our republic and system of written laws,” Thomasson said.
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 the law was unconstitutional because it discriminated against gays, and 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 to amend the state constitution, and it was approved by a margin of 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent.
In May 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 Prop. 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 in 2011 but put a decision on hold while it awaited a state Supreme Court ruling on the ability of Prop. 8 backers to press the case forward despite the state’s refusal to appeal.
The state Supreme Court decided that Prop. 8 supporters had legal standing, so the 9th Circuit moved ahead with its consideration of the case, hearing more arguments on a motion by Prop. 8 backers asking that Walker’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 last year 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.”
That ruling led to the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On its website, officials with ProtectMarriage.com, said they would continue defending Proposition 8 and noted that they were “pleased” the Supreme Court effectively overturned the 9th Circuit ruling overturning the measure.
“For the more than 7 million Californians who have seen their vote stripped away from them, little by little, over the course of five years, that decision is gratifying,” according to the group. “While it is unfortunate that the court’s ruling does not directly resolve questions about the scope of the trial court’s order against Prop. 8, we will continue to defend Prop. 8 and seek its enforcement until such time as there is a binding statewide order that redners Prop 8 unenforceable.”
Here are some statements issued by local officials in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on Proposition 8 and Defense of Marriage Act.
• Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: “Today we have taken another momentous step on the path to full equality and dignity for all Californians and all Americans. By striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, the Supreme Court has affirmed a basic American truth: bigotry and bias have no place in our laws. And with the court’s decision on Prop. 8, California is poised to become the 13th state in America with full marriage equality. . . .”
• Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster: “Today is a monumental day that will change, for the better, the lives of friends and families throughout our great state and makes our nation stronger.”
• Rep. Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles: “Today marks a watershed moment in the fight for marriage equality for LGBT Americans. The Supreme Court’s rulings bring the nation and California one step closer to realizing our Constitution’s promise of equality for all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation. For California, thousands of LGBT couples will now receive the recognition and protections afforded to any other family under the law and will no longer be treated as second-class citizens.”
• Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.: “I was proud to have voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, and it is so heartening to see that the federal government will now treat all marriages equally. (And) because of the court’s ruling on Proposition 8, millions of Californians will be able to marry the person they love — with all the rights and responsibilities that go along with it.”