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United States District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled Wednesday that Proposition 8, which in 2008 outlawed same-sex marriage in California, was unconstitutional.
The decision is expected to be appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Still, the ruling was received with joy in West Hollywood, where supporters of gay marriage held a rally in West Hollywood Park.
Noah Edwardsen, a 26-year-old local resident, attended the rally.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier about a court decision in my life,” Edwardsen said. “To go from a place where you don’t think marriage is a possibility to a place where you know someday it will be, that’s one of the greatest gifts you could ever receive. I’m speechless.”
Many local lawmakers, including California Assemblymember Mike Feuer, 42nd District, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also expressed their support for Walker’s ruling. Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, expressed enthusiasm about the decision as well, though she also noted remaining obstacles in the movement for LGBT rights.
“Over the last 40 years, the advances in the movement for LGBT equality have been extraordinary, but that progress has not been unbroken and there are clearly more obstacles to overcome,” Jean said. “But today’s decision is yet another signpost as we move ever closer to the day when the ideal of liberty and justice for all is fully realized for LGBT Americans, as it should be for every American, and indeed for everyone everywhere.”
Walker’s decision not only declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional but also declined to stay the effects of the ruling pending appeal, in effect rendering gay marriage legal again in California, as it was before Proposition 8 passed in 2008.
Walker also ruled that the defense failed to show that Proposition 8 was based on anything other than the conviction that homosexual relationships are not as good as heterosexual ones.
“In the absence of rational basis, what remains of proponents’ case is an inference, amply supported by evidence in the record, that Proposition 8 was premised on the belief that same-sex couples simply are not as good as opposite-sex couples,” Walker wrote. “Whether that belief is based on moral disapproval or homosexuality, animus towards gay and lesbians or simply a belief that a relationship between a man and a woman is inherently better than a relationship between two men or two women, this belief is not a proper basis on which to legislate.”
Many organizations that oppose gay marriage decried Walker’s decision, including the National Organization for Marriage.
“We expected nothing different from Judge Vaughn Walker, after the biased way he conducted this trial,” said Brian Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage. “With a stroke of his pen, Judge Walker has overruled the votes and values of 7 million Californians who voted for marriage as one man and one woman. This ruling, if allowed to stand, threatens not only Prop 8 in California but the laws in 45 other states that define marriage as one man and one woman.”
Daria Roithmayr, professor at the USC Gould School of Law, said the most important aspect of the decision was that it found no equivalent status between marriage and domestic partnership.
“The ruling found that there is a cultural meaning in marriage, and that’s in stark contrast to the Supreme Court’s earlier decision about whether or not terminology made a difference,” Roithmayr said. “The takeaway is that there is no data that justifies refusing marriage based on the sexual preference of the participants, and there are important encroachments on people’s right to equal protection when they deny marriage to same-sex participants. When you’re looking at something that differentiates one group, you have to have a good reason, and the court found there was just no good reason.”
Roithmayr said the 9th Circuit Court would have to apply the same standard to the appeal.
“The Ninth Circuit can take up a different angle, but if they’re looking at the same standard, they are going to have to find some alternative way of reversing the decision, and I can’t imagine what that would be.”
Roithmayr said if the 9th Circuit upholds Walker’s ruling, the United States Supreme Court is expected to take up the case. If the Circuit court overturns the ruling, however, the Supreme Court is expected to decline to hear the case.
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