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California’s Proposition 8 Held Unconstitutional

In a landmark decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held on February 7, 2012, that Proposition 8, which amended California’s constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry, served no legitimate purpose and violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In its opinion, the court in Perry v. Brown recognized that communities certainly have the right to enact rules and regulations they believe necessary and desirable, subject, however, to the requirement that there must be a legitimate reason “for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently.” Simply put, this reviewing court found no such legitimate purpose here.

The Appellate court recognized that prior to the enactment of Proposition 8 same-sex couples actually had all the same rights as opposite-sex couples in this regard. Indeed, the only effect of Proposition 8 was to strip away from same-sex couples the ability they previously possessed to obtain from the State: “the right to obtain and use the designation “marriage” to describe their relationships. Nothing more.” It was thus determined that the enactment of Proposition 8 could not have been enacted to advance California’s interests in child-rearing or responsible procreating because it had no effect on that.

In strong and clear language, Justice Reinhardt stated “Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples. The Constitution simply does not allow for ‘laws of this sort.'”

Because of the manner in which this case arose, this decision only applies to California, and appeal to the United States Supreme Court is the next step of review for this issue. Further, until that review has been exhausted same-sex couples must still live under Proposition 8 as it remains viable, for the time being. This opinion does, however, send a strong and unambiguous message to other jurisdictions that the tide is changing and that the time has come for us, as a society, to recognize human dignity and equality for all people.