In a move that will shock few people, a panel of the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Proposition 8, a voter-passed California constitutional amendment affirming that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, is unconstitutional. Specifically, the court held that Prop 8 violated the Fourteenth Amendment by not offering sufficiently compelling reason for treating different classes of people differently under the law.
“All that Proposition 8 accomplished was to take away from same-sex couples the right to be granted marriage licenses and thus legally to use the designation ‘marriage,’ which symbolizes state legitimization and social recognition of their committed relationships,” the decision reads. “Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.” The judges conclude: “The Constitution does not allow for ‘laws of this sort.'”
The ruling purports to be narrow, addressing only the context of Proposition 8 itself (California already briefly had same-sex marriage, which this initiative reversed) and not the question of whether it could ever be constitutional to define marriage as a man and a woman under California law. This makes it more likely that Proposition 8 and the issue of same-sex marriage will come before the Supreme Court.
Interestingly, the court cites the 1996 Supreme Court decision Romer v. Evans as precedent. Justice Antonin Scalia said at the time that the logic of Romer demanded same-sex marriage. The ruling also comes on the same day that Rick Santorum, the most outspoken opponent of redefining marriage, is expected to have a strong showing in three Republican nominating contests.