Well, it's official: Proposition 8 is history - hopefully, for good. Today, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional and violates the United States Constitution's guarantees of due process and equal protection of the laws. The ruling is a tour de force--a grand slam on every count.
The court held that Prop 8 violates the fundamental right to marry and discriminates on the basis of both sex and sexual orientation in violation of the equal protection clause. The court held that laws that discriminate based on sexual orientation must be subject to the highest level of constitutional review, but that Prop 8 would fail even the lowest test, because it is based solely on moral disapproval of gay people. The court made detailed findings of fact about all of the evidence presented and the credibility of the witnesses.
This is without a doubt a game-changing ruling. Today's decision is the most comprehensive, detailed decision addressing the constitutional rights of same-sex couples to affirmative recognition and support ever to be issued by a federal court. There are many "money quotes" in the decision but among them:
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.
Given the roller coaster we have all been through with marriage and Prop 8 in California, it is hard to put in words what this victory means. It is surely among the most personal and profound wins for our community.
Judge Walker's ruling eviscerates the baseless and empty arguments of our opponents. Walker found that there was simply no credible, rational, believable, or persuasive reason to take the right to marry away from same-sex couples. Our opponents, (which did not include the State of California after Attorney General Jerry Brown refused to defend Prop 8), had a team of very fine lawyers. And yet at the end of the day, the evidence they presented in support of Prop 8 made abundantly clear that other than discomfort or hostility, there is no justifiable basis for excluding us from the same right to marry enjoyed by every other couple in this country.
This groundbreaking decision upholds the rights of liberty and equality that are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, and affirms that the law cannot treat people differently based on who they love and that a majority cannot strip a minority group of its fundamental freedoms at the ballot box. But more than that, the ruling elevates the central reason many same-sex couples wish to marry-because we are in love with a person special to us and with whom we want to share our lives, just like everyone else. So at its most basic, today's victory is about humanity, dignity, and love. It is hard to accept that there is such fierce opposition to that.
But there clearly is, and Judge Walker likely will be blasted as an "activist judge" hundreds of times over. And in that intended smear is perhaps the most disconcerting and hypocritical tactic of our extremist opponents. In striking down Prop 8, Judge Walker aligns himself with the most bedrock principles in our democracy.
First, it is the job of courts to reign in majorities when they trample on minority rights. Second, bias, prejudice, hostility, or even squeamishness, is never a legitimate basis for denying rights to a disfavored minority. And three, when there is no credible evidence presented by one side in a lawsuit, the other side wins. But when it comes to LGBT rights and our hysterical opposition, there is no playing by the usual rules.
So today we savor this victory. It is a key step in our journey to full justice and dignity for our lives and our entitlement to the same constitutionally protected choices about whether and whom to marry that others enjoy. But the forces that fight us are not going anywhere, so we must continue to reach out and have conversations about our families and our lives with our friends, our loved ones, our allies. By sharing our stories, we win the hearts and minds of others who may not share our views, and create a world where all families are valued and respected as fully equal.
As this case moves up on appeal we need to make clear to everyone watching that America is ready for LGBT people to be treated as fully equal citizens, including the freedom to make the same deeply personal decisions about marriage that heterosexual couples take for granted. Everyone has a part to play in making that happen. Get involved in your own community. Engage your friends, co-workers, and family in conversations about what full equality means to you and your family. Contact your statewide LGBT groups to find out what you can do to advance marriage equality where you live. This is a victory we must preserve and keep. But you can wait until tomorrow to do that. For today, just be grateful, proud, and happy.