Ruling against Proposition 8 a step toward allowing gay couples to marry

Gay marriage
William Hamilton hugs his partner Ben Gertzfield at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center on Tuesday, Feb 7. A federal appeals court ruled against California's ban on same-sex marriage. Photo by Mihail Matikov.

Proposition 8 was found to be unconstitutional by the U.S. Ninth Circuit of Court Appeals Tuesday because it restricts gay and lesbian couples’ right to marry.

“The decision is really important and historic for a federal appeals court to find that denying same sex couples the right to marry to be unconstitutional. Never before has a ruling like this happened in the history of the country,” said Rebekah Orr, spokeswoman for Equality California, an LGBT advocacy group.

Not everyone was as excited with the ruling.

“Stop gay marriage, stop abortion,” said Solomua Vaaetasi Solomua at the celebratory rally following the decision. “Love Jesus like you love your mother and your father, not no homosexual, not no man and a man or a woman and a woman.”

But Orr said the ruling is a step toward equality for same-sex couples, but it still does not allow them to marry.

“For now it doesn’t fundamentally change the lives of same-sex couples, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Orr said.

The future of same-sex marriage was not so bright just less than four years ago when about 52 percent of voters supported an outright ban on gay marriage on the November 2008 ballot.

“Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California” was added to the state constitution the day after the election.

According to Orr, the ruling sets a precedent for other states to follow suit. Currently, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont allow same-sex marriages.

“It will play a really important role in similar cases across the country, but there is still more work to do,” said Orr. “It demonstrates that we have to pursue every path to marriage equality, whether legal or legislative, or public education. At every level we need to make sure gains are made.”

But the case can still be taken to the U.S. Supreme Court. There is speculation as to whether or not the appeals court would decide to take the case.

“I think generally legal experts believe it unlikely that the case (to appeal) will be taken, and for the decision to be overturned,” said Orr.

Originally, the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8 as legitimate; but U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker overturned Proposition 8 in August 2010, ruling that it was a violation of equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

According to Pablo Ramirez, director of Queer Alliance at SF State, Tuesday’s ruling is exciting news.

“We are ecstatic about it. The fact that they called it unconstitutional humanizes the LGBTQ community,” he said.

In response to what is next for the same-sex marriage debate, Ramirez said any movement toward progress is a positive.

“Every step counts as long as we’re moving toward progress. We have been through so much happiness and sadness and we’re excited to see a move forward,” said Ramirez.

The proposition will not affect domestic partnerships or same-sex marriages that were granted before Nov. 5.