Freedom to marry advocates hailed the 2-1 decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declaring Prop 8 unconstitutional as “huge” and “historic.” It is the first time a federal appeals court has ever ruled favorably for marriage equality, recognizing that the ban on gay marriage served no purpose than to “lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians” and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution. The court found that there was no legitimate reason for Prop 8 to have been enacted. (Read the full decision here).
The ruling is limited to California, which, AFER attorneys Ted Olson and Ted Boutrous pointed out at a Feb. 7 news conference at the former Catholic Vibiana Cathedral, means there is a chance the US Supreme Court might not even take the case for review. Like the 1996 Colorado Amendment 2 case, the decision centers around an initiative that took existing constitutional rights away and may not pertain to or conflict with other states’ laws.
But the ruling was strong. “Proposition 8 operates with no apparent purpose but to impose on gays and lesbians, through the public law, a majority’s private disapproval of them and their relationships,” wrote Judge Stephen Reinhardt. “It is implausible to think that denying two men or two women the right to call themselves married could somehow bolster the stability of families headed by one man and one woman.”
Conservative Judge N. Randy Smith dissented, writing that, “The family structure of two committed biological parents — one man and one woman — is the optimal partnership for raising children.”
The stay issued by the Court on August 16, 2010 is still in effect with two weeks (until about Feb. 28) for the antigay Prop 8 proponents to decide whether to appeal to the full 9th Circuit. They have 90 days to file a petition with the Supreme Court. No matter, Olson said. From the start the case has been built to go to the Supreme Court. 8 have two weeks to appeal to the circuit court and 90 days to file a petition for Supreme Court review.
Reaction included this statement from Gov. Jerry Brown, who refused to defend Prop 8 in court. “The court has rendered a powerful affirmation of the right of same-sex couples to marry. I applaud the wisdom and courage of this decision,” Brown said.
With so much attention paid to the legal aspects of this important decision, much of the eloquence of those most directly involved has been glossed over. But I submit that it’s also important to hear from the people who live, eat and sleep this case, if only briefly, And in the process – meet Spencer Perry, the teenage son of plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier who made his first public speaking appearance before the press today.
First, Chad Griffin, who co-founded AFER and as Board chair has been honchoing the lawsuit, along with senior project director Adam Umhoefer. Griffin opened the news conference talking about
“the same freedom to love, respect and build a family – that’s all this case is about. Not special rights or privileges, just fairness and equality. The same fairness and equality the Supreme Court held 45 years ago in Loving v Virginia after – Mildred and Richard Loving were arrested for being an interracial married couple. The Supreme Court recognized that marriage is one of the basically civil rights of man fundamental to our existence and our survival.”
Griffin also emphasized how the case matters to young LGBT people, to whom he spoke directly in the webcast of the news conference: “You have a right to be who you are and the court today has just taken a big step towards giving you the future and the protections you so deserve.”
Attorney Ted Olson opened his remarks with thank yous to all involved – but had a special gracious acknowledgement for the plaintiffs and their families:
It is not easy to be a participant in a landmark civil rights case that goes on and on and takes a great amount of time. They’ve been put in the spotlight, a lot of pressure has been put on them. They’ve been absolutely fantastic. They’ve been wonderful symbols of what we’re doing today. They stand for the humanity of everything we’re doing.
This is a huge day. The united States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit – which represents 9 states and certain territories – has decided that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, it violates the fundamental human rights of citizens in this country…..this case is about equality and freedom and dignity and fairness and decency. It is about whether we are going to eliminate government-sponsored discrimination written into the Constitution of the biggest state in the United States. It is about whether we are going to eliminate second class citizenship, whether we are going to treat thousands, millions of our citizens as less equal, less respected, different, less entitled, isolated. We’re bringing a stop to that discrimination. Discrimination on this level, to our citizens, hurts all of us. …..As the closing witness said in our case at trial – we will be more American in this country when we eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation. Today, we are more American because of this decision.
This is an important step – we’re not at the end of the line yet. But I cannot overstate the importance of the decision today.
Plaintiff Kris Perry, for whom the lawsuit is named – was also eloquent and gave the legal ramifications human relevance
Today marks the culmination of what has been a transformational year. Today the 9th circuit court of appeals said to our family and millions of Americans hat we are equal under the law, that the right to marry the person you love is a fundamental freedom and that the full federal marriage equality is within our grasp. For so long gay and lesbian couples, families and kids have endured discrimination. For so long our government has been the perpetrator of this very personal discrimination.
Now that the ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, the dismantling of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, victory for marriage equality in New York, and a focus internationally on gay rights as human rights, we can see over the dark wall of discrimination. We can see a place where freedom and respect come more easily and where protection from harm is what our government does for us and not to us. Brick by brick, these dark walls of discrimination are being dismantled.
I grew up in Bakersfield, California, afraid of who I really was – afraid to come out, afraid to fall in love, afraid to dream of a future that would include not only joy but heartbreak and disappointment. I did not let myself want to have a family because I could not imagine how that dream would ever become a reality. And although it’s been a long road, now Sandy and I are closer to achieving this reality. We are anxious to get married before our youngest children – our twin boys, Spencer and Elliot – graduate high school next year and being their lives as adults. We look forward to the closure and celebration that will come from the end of Prop 8 and the beginning of married life together. Very soon Proposition 8 will be gone forever. When that day comes, we can all celebrate victory for freedom, fairness and equality. We can’t wait for that day. We can’t wait.
The church echo chamber hushed as young Spencer Perry took the podium. His parents and his AFER family all looked on with pride and emotionally having his back as he spoke:
“I’m Kris and Sandy’s son. The fight that my parents have pursued is a fight that gay people everywhere are fighting. They are being discriminated against just for being who they are and loving who they love. Marriage equality is the next step to finally showing California that my parents are equal, that our family is equal. I’m very fortunate to live in a home with a lot of love. Not a day goes by that my brothers and myself don’t consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have grown up with such outstanding parents. But Proposition 8 has done a really, really good job of trying to tear that love apart. When Proposition 8 doesn’t allow parents like mine to marry, it isn’t just defining their love as taboo or wrong. It says that my family – that my brothers, that my mothers shouldn’t belong and we don’t get to be the same as my friends families.
With this ruling, in the eyes of the government, my family is finally normal. We are different and we don’t need a trial to prove that we love one another. What Proposition 8 means is that I know that the government I rust to protect me – the government that has fought for civil rights for other families – is the same government that turns a bling eye to the violence and the persecution that the gay community suffers. A government that has taken action specifically saying ‘This minority does not have the rights of the majority.’ But there’s hope. With anything, with this case, we can see a light at the end of the tunnel. All of the rallies, the marches, the speeches, have pushed us to a more equal society and soon to be a more equal United States. In the words of David Blankenhorn, ‘We’ll be more American.”