In a decision with national implications, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that California's Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state, violates the U.S. Constitution.
In 2008, California voters narrowly approved a proposition that limited marriage to heterosexual couples. It sparked a lawsuit challenging the amendment's constitutionality. A lower federal court ruled the ban was illegal after the state supreme court upheld the ban.
Opponents of the ban used the same argument that persuaded the Iowa Supreme Court to rule unanimously in 2009 that the state's legislative ban violated the Constitution's 14th Amendment requirement that all people receive equal rights and protections.
Three Iowa justices paid dearly and unjustly for their integrity, legal scholarship and common decency. They were ousted in a recall campaign led by the religious right.
Prop 8's passage was ironic in that Californians voted to deny a minority group basic human rights while simultaneously refuting centuries of brutal discrimination by backing an African-American for president.
For Americans who believe democracy demands equality and fairness, discrimination in all its ugly forms is intolerable. For those disagreeing, it's acceptable to mix religion with politics. Banning gays and lesbians from marrying is rooted in religion, not civil law.
In Tuesday's decision, the 9th Circuit voted 2-1 to overturn the California law. The majority declared: "Proposition 8 served no purpose, and had no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California."
As such, it violated the 14th amendment.
Their decision could be appealed to the Ninth's full panel of nine judges. More likely, though, the promised appeal will go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court.
With five Catholics on the high court and their religion opposed to homosexuality and gay marriage, their thinking on what should be a purely legal and secular matter will be as interesting as it is crucial to upholding the concept of equal rights for everyone.
The justices could refuse to hear the case, thus letting the decision stand, send it back for review by the full Ninth, or debate its merits themselves.
The latter option would serve the country best, because at this point the 9th's limited ruling applies only to California.
But with 41 states that legally limit marriage to one man and one woman (at a time), whether all those laws violate the U.S. Constitution is an answer the entire country must hear if it is ever to relinquish its prejudices.
- The Hawk Eye (Burlington), Feb. 8