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Historic Victory in Prop. 8 Case, and a Call to Action

Elizabeth Gill,
ACLU of Northern California
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August 5, 2010

Yesterday’s landmark decision in the Prop. 8 case is a huge victory for LGBT Americans. In Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Judge Vaughn R. Walker of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco ruled that Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that excluded same-sex couples from marriage in the state, is unconstitutional. The ruling holds for the first time that the due process clause of the United States Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the freedom to marry, and that denying same-sex couples this freedom also violates the equal protection clause.

After reviewing and weighing the evidence presented during trial, the court found that “Proposition 8 cannot withstand any level of scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause, as excluding same-sex couples from marriage is simply not rationally related to a legitimate state interest.” Although the court recognized that legislative classifications based on sexual orientation are entitled to a higher level of scrutiny (or a presumption that the classification is invalid), Proposition 8’s discrimination between same-sex and opposite-sex couples failed even the lowest level of constitutional review, which requires, at minimum, that a classification in a law be rationally related to a legitimate state interest.

The court found that the reasons for Prop. 8 that were raised by its proponents — the Yes on 8 campaign —were either not accomplished by the initiative or were improperly based on moral or religious beliefs. For example, although the Yes on 8 campaign argued that one reason for Prop. 8 was that it promotes opposite-sex parenting over same-sex parenting, the court concluded that this reason was neither legitimate — because the evidence showed that same-sex parents and opposite-sex parents are “of equal quality” — nor rationally related to the initiative — as it “does not make it any more likely that opposite-sex couples will marry and raise offspring biologically.” At the end of day, the only real reason for the passage of Prop. 8 was “the belief that same-sex couples simply are not as good as opposite-sex couples.” And that, the court concluded, “was not a proper basis on which to legislate.”

We can’t yet know what will the impact of this historic ruling will be, as it will first go up on appeal to the 9th Circuit and is likely eventually to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. But we do know that our work on relationship recognition is by no means done: in fact, in order to give this case the best possible chance of success as it moves through the appeals courts, we need to show that America is ready for same-sex couples to marry by continuing to seek marriage and other relationship protections in states across the country.

The ACLU is working with same-sex couples throughout the country to secure the freedom to marry by working to pass marriage bills in New York, Rhode Island, Maryland, and Maine and by seeking domestic partnership recognition in Montana, Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico and Alaska. You can make a difference in this fight by getting involved in protecting relationships in your state. You can find your state LGBT organization here to find out what’s going on near you.

The court’s ruling can be found at:

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