BREAKING: Court rules Prop 8 gay marriage ban unconstitutional

Opponents of the controversial Prop 8. Image courtesy the LA Times.

A federal appeals court Tuesday struck down California’s ban on same-sex marriage, clearing the way for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on gay marriage as early as next year, according to the Los Angeles Times. Opponents are expected to continue appeals to that highest level.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the California measure restricting marriage to between a man and a woman violated the U.S. Constitution’s right to equal protection. The 2-1 decision is in line with the earlier ruling of retired Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who declared it unconstitutional in 2010.

“Proposition 8 served no purpose, and had no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California,” the court said.

Proposition 8 has had a rocky history. Passed in November 2008 with 52 percent of the vote, five months after the state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, it was initially upheld but also maintained the legitimacy of existing gay marriages. It was then overturned, though the stay on marriages stayed in place as the appeals process continued.

Walker, the Republican judge who initially declared it unconstitutional has come under fire as a gay man, with opponents urging him to recuse himself on the basis that he may want to marry someday. (I mean, even I might want to get married someday…well…maybe…). In a separate decision, the appeals court also refused to invalidate Walker’s ruling on the grounds that he should have disclosed he was in a long term same-sex relationship.

Prop. 8 proponents have 15 days to ask the panel for what’s known as en banc review of today’s decision by an 11-judge panel. A single judge on the ninth circuit can also request review. Or, the pro-Prop. 8 legal team could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case within 90 days. There is no word yet on when gay marriages might resume.

It’s a hard-fought victory on a long road that didn’t come soon enough for some. Courage Campaign has a sad but sweet story about a couple recently profiled:

When the California Supreme Court decided it would take six months to offer its advice to the 9th Circuit, thus adding nearly a year to the process, the Courage Campaign asked members to submit their stories on what the delay meant to them and their families. Three hundred stories came in, including one from Ed Watson and Derence Kernek in Palm Springs, a couple for over 40 years. Ed had Alzheimer’s and his health was quickly deteriorating. Ironically, Ed died on the eve of the last Prop 8 hearing in the 9th Circuit.

“The decision made by the 9th Circuit, to be honest, is a bittersweet one for me,” said Mr. Kernek, who still lives in Palm Springs. “I know that my partner of 41 years, Ed, would’ve been thrilled to have heard the news. He missed it by less than two months because he passed away in December. Even as he took his last dying breaths, Ed spoke of wanting to marry me. Even though he did not get his last wish, I am heartened to know that other gay couples who love each other will be able to take sacred vows and fully commit their lives to one another. And that makes it a glorious day for gay people in California.”

You can read the ruling in it’s entirety in this LA Times PDF.

You can sign a support of marriage pledge for Oregon at online as well.

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