In a first step toward a historic Supreme Court test, a federal judge on Wednesday struck down California’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples.  U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled that so-called “Proposition 8″ — approved by the state’s voters in November 2008 — violated two clauses of the federal Constitution.  Those who persuaded the state’s voters to approve the ballot measure have vowed to continue their challenge, up to the Supreme Court.  The judge’s 138-page opinion is here.  A separate order, putting the ruling on hold until both sides file briefs on the plea by Proposition 8 backers to block the ruling while they appeal, can be found here.  Those briefs are due on Friday, and the judge indicated he would rule quickly on that plea.

The judge, in finding a violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of legal equality, concluded that California could not justify treating committed couples differently solely because they were of the same sex.  He applied the lowest constitutional test — “rational basis” — to this differing treatment.  He also ruled that Proposition 8 violated rights that are protected by the Due Process Clause.

The evidence put forward in the challenge to the ban, the judge wrote, “shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples.”

Here are closing parts of the decision:

“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. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.”

REMEDIES

“Plaintiffs have demonstrated by overwhelming evidence that Proposition 8 violates their due process and equal protection rights and that they will continue to suffer these constitutional violations until state officials cease enforcement of Proposition 8. California is able to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as it has already issued 18,000 marriage licenses to same-sex couples and has not suffered any demonstrated harm as a result…moreover, California officials have chosen not to defend Proposition 8 in these proceedings.

“Because Proposition 8 is unconstitutional under both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, the court orders entry of judgment permanently enjoining its enforcement; prohibiting the official defendants from applying or enforcing Proposition 8 and directing the official defendants that all persons under their control or supervision shall not apply or enforce Proposition 8.  The clerk is DIRECTED to enter judgment without bond in favor of plaintiffs and plaintiff-intervenors and against defendants and defendant-intervenors pursuant to FRCP 58.”

Posted in Cases in the Pipeline