What it means; what’s next


With the judge’s decision, can gay and lesbian couples begin to marry again?

Not right away. U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker has temporarily put a hold on his order until Friday, giving supporters of Proposition 8 time to file an appeal and seek a long-term stay. That decision appears to delay any resumption of same-sex marriage in California.


Why was Proposition 8 found to be unconstitutional?

The judge ruled that the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says states cannot deny anyone equal protection of the laws. Walker said Proposition 8 “enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples,” and that the measure put gays and lesbians at a disadvantage “without any rational justification.”


The judge also said Proposition 8 violated a part of the 14th Amendment that prohibits states from depriving any person of liberty without due process of law. The freedom to marry is a fundamental right protected by the U.S. Constitution, Walker said, adding that supporters of Proposition 8 had failed to prove that there was a compelling government interest in excluding same-sex couples from marriage.


Where does Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stand on the ruling?

Schwarzenegger commended the ruling. He opposed Proposition 8 and declined to defend the ballot measure in court.

The governor released a statement that said: “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. 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.”


The California Supreme Court already upheld the constitutionality of Proposition 8, so why are the federal courts involved?

The California Supreme Court in May 2009 ruled that Proposition 8 was a legal amendment to the state Constitution. But same-sex couples took their case to federal court, arguing that the measure deprived them of rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.


Who filed the lawsuit?

Two same-sex couples, Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier of Berkeley, who are raising four children together, and Jeffrey Zarrillo and Paul Katami of Burbank sued California and their local county clerks, who oversee marriage licenses, on the basis that they wanted to marry but could not do so because of Proposition 8.


What did opponents of Proposition 8 argue?

The supporters of same-sex marriage argued that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional because it discriminates against gays and lesbians by denying them a right to marry the person of their choice, whereas heterosexual men and women may do so freely, according to the ruling.

They also argued that Proposition 8 singles out gays and lesbians for unequal treatment.


What did supporters of Proposition 8 argue?

During the campaign, supporters said Proposition 8 was not an attack on homosexuals but was about preserving marriage and protecting children from being taught in public schools that same-sex marriage is the same as traditional marriage. During the trial, supporters argued that Proposition 8 promotes stability because heterosexual relationships naturally produce children and promote “optimal” child-rearing households, according to the judge’s summary of the argument.


What did the judge think about that argument?

The judge said the state’s role in overseeing marriage has nothing to do with advancing procreation. “Never has the state inquired into procreative capacity or intent before issuing a marriage license; indeed, a marriage license is more than a license to have procreative sexual intercourse,” Walker wrote.

Walker also asserted that homosexuals can be good parents.

“Children raised by gay or lesbian parents are as likely as children raised by heterosexual parents to be healthy, successful and well-adjusted. The research supporting this conclusion is accepted beyond serious debate in the field of developmental psychology,” Walker wrote.


Did the judge find that domestic partnerships were an adequate arrangement for gay unions?

No. The judge said marriage offers a “culturally superior status compared to a domestic partnership,” which he called a “substitute and inferior institution.”


Have public attitudes about gay marriage changed since the approval of Proposition 8?

According to a Public Policy Institute of California poll released in March, 50% of respondents support gay marriage and 45% oppose it. The institute said that marks the highest level of support for same-sex marriage their polls have recorded in California.

A Los Angeles Times/USC poll released in November found that a small majority of California voters supported the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry, but a much larger portion of voters opposed efforts to place the issue on the ballot in 2010.

In November 2008, 52.3% of California voters approved the ban on same-sex marriage.


Will gay marriage go before California voters again?

It’s possible. Some gay rights activists have been working to get a same-sex marriage measure on the ballot in 2011 or later.


What’s the background of the judge making the ruling?

Walker, who is gay, was appointed by President George H.W. Bush in 1989 to serve on the bench of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California in 1989 and has served as chief judge since 2004.

A native of Watskea, Ill., the iconoclastic, lanky, silver-haired judge surprised lawyers on both sides by using the trial to test assumptions about whether gays are inferior parents, whether same-sex marriage hurts straight marriage and whether sexual orientation is changeable.


What’s the next step?

Walker will hold a hearing Friday to determine whether his ruling should take effect immediately or be put on hold. Gay marriage opponents plan to appeal the ruling to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. That court’s decision will probably be appealed to the United States Supreme Court.