A federal judge in San Francisco decided today that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry, striking down Proposition 8, the voter approved ballot measure that banned same-sex unions.
U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker said Proposition 8, passed by voters in November 2008, violated the federal constitutional rights of gays and lesbians to marry the partners of their choice.. His ruling is expected to be appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and then up to the U.S. Supreme Court. “Plaintiffs challenge Proposition 8 under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment,” the judge wrote. “Each challenge is independently meritorious, as Proposition 8 both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation.”
Walker, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush, heard 16 witnesses summoned by opponents of Proposition 8 and two called by proponents during a 2½-week trial in January.
Gabe Arana at The Prospect explained earlier today that the judge would have to answer at least one of three questions for his decision:
1. Do gays qualify as a protected minority?
2. Is there a good enough reason to restrict marriage to just straight people?
3. Is marriage — in particular, same-sex marriage — a fundamental right?
Walker decided to respond to number two, the least controversial of the three reasons. It’s likely that gay marriage opponents will seek an injunction against the State of California issuing marriage licenses, and then appeal to the 9th Circuit Court (which will likely uphold Walker’s decision) and then to the Supreme Court. It’ll be some time before this matter is completely settled, so it’s difficult to celebrate, and it’s a bit unclear what side the Supreme Court will come down on.
UPDATE: Madjoy in the comments notes that Walker actually answered all three questions. This could make for a much stronger precedent than I thought initially.