The federal judge who overturned Proposition 8 Wednesday said the ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage was based on moral disapproval of gay marriage and ordered the state to stop enforcing the ban.
U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker, in a 136-page ruling, said California "has no interest in differentiating between same-sex and opposite-sex unions."
"The evidence shows conclusively that moral and religious views form the only basis for a belief that same-sex couples are different from opposite-sex couples," Walker wrote. The ruling struck down Proposition 8 as a violation of federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.
Walker cited extensive trial evidence to support his finding that there was not even a rational basis for excluding gays and lesbians from marriage. Higher courts defer to trial judges on issues of fact, but still could determine that Walker was wrong on the law.
Walker has temporarily stayed his order until Friday, giving Prop. 8 backers time to file appeals and seek a long-term stay. The decision would appear to delay any resumption of gay marriage in the state. Officials in L.A. County and West Hollywood said they were studying the ruling before deciding whether to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses again.
Supporters of the marriage ban vowed an immediate appeal.
Austin R. Nimocks, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund who fought to uphold Proposition 8 in Walker's court, said they would appeal. "We're obviously disappointed that the judge did not uphold the will of over 7 million Californians who made a decision in a free and fair democratic process."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the ruling.
"For the hundreds of thousands of Californians in gay and lesbian households who are managing their day-to-day lives, this decision affirms the full legal protections and safeguards I believe everyone deserves," the governor said. "At the same time, it provides an opportunity for all Californians to consider our history of leading the way to the future, and our growing reputation of treating all people and their relationships with equal respect and dignity."
He said the ruling was "by no means California's first milestone, nor our last, on America's road to equality and freedom for all people."
Supporters of Proposition 8 argued during the trial that same-sex marriage would undermine the institution of marriage and that children fare best with both a mother and a father.
The challengers presented witnesses who cited studies that showed children reared from birth by gay and lesbian couples do as well as children born into opposite-sex families. They also testified that the clamor for marriage in the gay community had given the institution of marriage greater esteem.
The trial appeared to be a lopsided show for the challengers, who called 16 witnesses, including researchers from the nation's top universities, and presented tearful testimony from gays and lesbians about why marriage mattered to them.
The backers of Proposition 8 called only two witnesses, and both made concessions under cross-examination that helped the other side.
The sponsors complained that Walker's pretrial rulings had been unfair and that some of their prospective witnesses decided not to testify out of fear for their safety.
When Walker ruled that he would broadcast portions of the trial on the Internet, Proposition 8 proponents fought him all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won a 5-4 ruling barring cameras in the courtroom.
The trial nevertheless was widely covered, with some groups doing minute-by-minute blogging. Law professors brought their students to watch the top-notch legal theater.
Wednesday's ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed last year by two homosexual couples who argued that the marriage ban violates their federal constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.
Filed in anticipation of a California Supreme Court ruling upholding Proposition 8, the suit was the brainchild of a gay political strategist in Los Angeles who formed a nonprofit to finance the litigation.
The group hired two legal luminaries from opposite sides of the political spectrum to try to overturn the ballot measure. Former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson, a conservative icon, signed on with litigator David Boies, a liberal who squared off against Olson in Bush vs. Gore, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that gave George W. Bush the presidency in 2000.
Gay-rights groups had opposed the lawsuit, fearful that the U.S. Supreme Court might rule against marriage rights and create a precedent that could take decades to overturn.
But after the suit was filed, gay rights lawyers flocked to support it, filing friend-of-court arguments on why Proposition 8 should be overturned.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown refused to defend the marriage ban, leaving the sponsors of the initiative to fill the vacuum. They hired a team of lawyers experienced in U.S. Supreme Court litigation.
Voters approved Proposition 8 by 52.3% six months after the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was permitted under the state Constitution.
The state high court later upheld Proposition 8 as a valid amendment to the state Constitution.
An estimated 18,000 same-sex couples married in California during the months it was legal, and the state continues to recognize those marriages.