Federal Judge Rules Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Unconstitutional

Written by William Chadwick. Posted in News, Politics

Published on August 05, 2010 with 1 Comment

American Foundation for Equal Rights President Chad Griffin addressed media questions yesterday following a Federal court decision that ruled Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. Photos by Michael J. Costa.

By William Chadwick

August 4, 2010

Today was an important day in the history of the nation, in the pages of democracy, and in the long battle for recognition by gay and lesbian couples. Today, Federal Judge Vaughn Walker ruled Proposition 8, which 7 million Californians voted for in 2008, is unconstitutional, arguing there is “no rational basis for the discrimination” against same-sex marriage.

In the case Perry et al v. Schwarzenegger et al, Kristin Perry, a native of conservative hothouse, Bakersfield, has finally won the right to marry her partner of ten years, Sandy Stier, and for their family of four boys to be treated on  par with any other heterosexual family.

Speaking at the Bentley Reserve Building immediately after the ruling, Perry stated, “This decision does make our state better, our nation better, our world better.”

Perry spoke under the banner of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, along with Stier, and those who fought alongside them, including lead attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies. The nation’s press was there in force, and the atmosphere was a mixture of celebration and relief, tinged with caution that the fight is by no means over.

“Tomorrow I will have a sense of security that I haven’t had before. We will be treated like everyone else,” said Stier, adding that now she and others could now look forward to, “a signed, sealed, delivered, legal marriage.”

Jeff Zarillo, who also looks forward to marrying his long-term partner, Paul Katami, said he grew up believing in the American Dream. “Today, nowhere is that American Dream more real than here. This decision is just the beginning, and we are on our way to the Supreme Court,” he said.

Zarillo got choked up and lost the ability to speak soon afterwards, and passed the microphone to his partner, Katami, who spoke of the pain felt by those, “when the law and your government tells you you are unequal, unworthy.”

“We’re not waiting for the day when we can fight for our constitutional rights, we’re waiting for the day when we can be married,” continued Katami, thanking everyone for their support.

Lead attorney Ted Olson delved into greater detail as to how the judge made his decision, and stressed how the best argument he could give was “simply to let you hear again the plaintiff’s case.” So convincing were the arguments against Proposition 8 that many of its proponents’ witnesses were not admitted in court, and two of them who were even agreed with the plaintiff’s arguments whilst on the witness stand, “thanks to gentle cross-examination by David,” joked Olson.

“It is great that this proposition has been overturned in San Francisco by a federal judge. San Francisco has always been there for us,” continued Olson. (Not only a federal judge, but one appointed by Republican President George Bush Snr.)

In response to questions about his confidence that this decision would be upheld in the Court of Appeals, and carried over into the Supreme Court, Olson replied, “We said we would prove that marriage is a fundamental right… There is much more to do to eliminate discrimination in this country, but today we have eliminated the last discrimination against gays and lesbians.”

Lead attorney Theodore Olson; Chad Griffin, President of the American Foundation for Equal Rights with plaintiffs Paul Katami and Jeff Zarillo.

“More than 30 years ago, the United States Supreme Court recognized that marriage is one of the basic rights of man,” the suit against Proposition 8 states, referring to the Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia, which struck down bans on interracial marriage.

Why, therefore, should gays and lesbians be denied that same fundamental right? And does denying them that right have any redeeming social value, or indeed provide any benefit to heterosexual marriage? Once these straightforward questions had been dealt with, the simple answer was that there is no good reason to continue to ban gay marriage.

Asked whether same-sex marriage should be put on the ballot in 2014, David Boies responded, “I don’t think a fundamental constitutional right should be put before the people, or politicians.”

Ted Olson expanded on how this landmark decision would change what was being taught in law schools all over the nation, and believes there wll be a huge swing in public opinion in favor of the ruling. “This is a victory for the American people, for the justice system,” he said.

Ultimately Judge Walker found, “There is no legitimate government interest in fostering discrimination against any group in this country.”

Walker will surely go down in history as a decisive figure in what is a major victory for equal rights.

Statements from politicians

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera: “Today’s ruling strikes a resonant chord against discrimination that should not only withstand appeal, but change hearts and minds. I’m extremely grateful to Judge Walker for a thorough and well reasoned decision that powerfully affirms the U.S. Constitution’s promise of equal protection. I know I speak for everyone in my office when I say how honored we are to have the opportunity in this case to work alongside the American Foundation for Equal Rights, and its founder, Chad Griffin; an outstanding legal team led by the legendary Ted Olson and David Boies; and, of course, the couples they represent in Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, and Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo. We’re also indebted to all the witnesses we called who lent their expertise so generously. I’m particularly thankful to San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and his daughter, Lisa, for sharing a deeply personal story that goes to the very heart of why this case matters.”

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco): “U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker has issued a powerful, thoughtful, and well-reasoned decision. In overturning Proposition 8, this Court fulfilled its legacy as a champion for equality. The Court recognized that it is unconstitutional to put a minority’s rights up for a popular vote. Today’s decision reaffirmed our U.S. Constitution’s promise of equality for all.”

Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco): “By declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional, Judge Walker reaffirmed the highest ideals of our republic. For far too long, our nation has unfairly denied fundamental rights to individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation – clearly and sadly violating the equal protection doctrine in our state and federal Constitutions.

Today’s decision is a giant leap forward in healing the wounds of government-sanctioned discrimination. State by state, we are finally recognizing and honoring all loving relationships and all families with the rights, privileges, and joys of marriage. I look forward to again officiating at weddings for all couples who wish to marry.”

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger: “Judge Walker had the great responsibility of deciding whether Proposition 8 violates the Constitution of the United States. He heard in-depth arguments from both sides on fundamental questions of due process, equal protection and freedom from discrimination. There are strong feelings on both sides of this issue, and I am glad that all viewpoints were respected throughout the proceedings. We should also recognize that there will continue to be different points of view in the wake of this decision.

“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.

“Today’s decision is by no means California’s first milestone, nor our last, on America’s road to equality and freedom for all people.”

Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco): “Today’s decision is a landmark victory for California and all caring couples who wish to make lifelong commitments to one another through marriage. Triumphantly we send the resounding message to the world that all people are treated equally under the laws of our nation. This decision not only upholds the constitutional right to marry for same-sex couples, but also affirms our fundamental rights as human beings, which for so long have been denied. The decision underscores the respect, dignity and validation which all loving couples deserve.

“As we celebrate today’s decision, we must never forget how far we have come, or the courageous leaders upon whose shoulders we stand. They had certainly envisioned this day, but did not live to see it. It is through their courageous blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice that we found our victory.

“In the words of the Declaration of Independence, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’”

Mayor Gavin Newsom: “Today’s decision is a victory for the fundamental American idea enshrined in our Constitution that separate is not equal and that all people deserve equal rights and treatment under the law. It is a victory for the thousands of California couples, their families and friends whose lives and loving, committed relationships have once again been affirmed in the eyes of the law.

As Judge Walker states in his ruling, ‘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.’

In the words of Dr. King, ‘the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.’ Today in California, history took another great step for all Americans towards fully realizing the principals of equality and fairness on the long march to justice. I salute the team of Ted Olsen, David Boies and City Attorney Dennis Herrera for so clearly and eloquently presenting the case against Prop 8. We will look to their commitment and wisdom again as the fight for marriage equality moves through appeal and, one day, to the Supreme Court of the United States.”

California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring: “The California Republican Party is firm in its support of traditional marriage and looks forward to the matter being resolved in a higher court.”

William Chadwick

William Chadwick is a young English writer who has recently moved to San Francisco from London. He has worked on-and-off in journalism for almost ten years. He is passionate about the theater, and has directed and written several plays. He is currently trying his hand at teaching English.

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  1. Actually, the court should step back and remove itself from marriage. It has no right to decide anything involving two people getting married. That is under the churches authority. The first reference to marriage, I am familiar with is from the book of Genesis and states, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”–Genesis 2:24 Now, since Genesis is a collection of stories which began when the first man was created, Adam, and first recorded by Moses around 1440-1400 B.C., it is quite obvious that the church, since the separation of powers-church vs. state, has the only authority over marriage. End of story … the mere concept of “homosexual marriage” defies logic, reason and sanity, and exemplifies the level to which government and courts have fallen.