Flash: Judge Overturns Prop 8 But Grants Stay

By Julia Cheever (BCN)
Wednesday August 04, 2010 - 03:20:00 PM

A federal judge in San Francisco today overturned Proposition 8, California's ban on same-sex marriage. U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker said the voter-approved initiative violated the U.S. Constitution's guarantees of equal treatment and due process. But Walker also issued a temporary stay suspending the ruling until he has had time to consider a request by the supporters of Proposition 8 for a longer-term stay while they appeal his decision. 

He ordered lawyers for two same-sex couples who challenged Proposition 8 to respond to the request for a stay by Friday. He said he may then decide whether to grant a further stay without holding a hearing. 

The proponents of Proposition 8 and their campaign committee, ProtectMarriage.com, asked for a stay in a filing late Tuesday, in advance of today's ruling.  

The case was the nation's first federal court trial on a U.S. constitutional challenge to a state ban on same-sex marriage. Walker heard evidence in the nonjury trial in January. 

Theodore Olson, a lawyer for the two couples, said, "On no less than 14 occasions, the Supreme Court has held that marriage is a fundamental right.  

"This decision recognizes that Proposition 8 denied the plaintiffs, and tens of thousands of other Californians, that fundamental constitutional right and treated them unequally," Olson said.  

His 136-page ruling rejected Proposition 8 sponsors' arguments that voters had a rational basis for enacting the measure to protect the traditional definition of marriage and to encourage responsible child-rearing. 

Walker wrote, "Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license.  

"Indeed the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples," the judge said. 

The judge also wrote, "Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gays and lesbians. 

"The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without a reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples," Walker said. 

The judge issued a permanent injunction prohibiting enforcement of Proposition 8, but the injunction will go into effect only if and when the stay is lifted. 

If Walker declines to continue the stay, Proposition 8 supporters can ask the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to grant a stay while the case is appealed. The appeal could take months.  

Proposition 8, approved by California voters as a state constitutional amendment in November 2008, provided that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." 

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement in response to today's ruling.  

"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.  

"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 governor said.