Proponents of gay marriage scored a major victory today (7 February) when a federal appeals court ruled that California's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to uphold a decision made last year by former U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker.
Walker had ruled that Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state when it was passed by voters in 2008, is a violation of the civil rights of gays and lesbians.
The opinion written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt states in part: '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 judges also ruled in a unanimous vote that Judge Walker need not have recused himself from the case because he is gay.
'This is a huge day,' Theodore B. Olson, co-counsel the case that resulted in the court decision, said at a press conference in downtown Los Angeles less than an hour after the ruling was released.
'This case is about equality and freedom and dignity and fairness and decency,' said Olson (pictured). 'It's about whether we are going to eliminate government-sponsored discrimination written into the constitution of the biggest state [by population] in the United States. It is about whether we are going to eliminate second-class citizenship. … We are bringing a stop to that discrimination.'
Olson believes the ruling will have national implications.
'Every legal decision allows the American people to hear more about what these issues are, to ask questions and think about these issues,' he said. 'Court decisions, it will change public opinion, it will change what legislatures do. I cannot overstate the importance of this decision.'
At the press conference, organized by the American Foundation for Equal Rights, Olson was accompanied by the two couples who are the plaintiffs in the case: Kris Perry and Sandy Stier and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo.
'We will be able to stand before our family and friends and make the one promise that we have all longed for,' said Zarrillo who added that the lawsuit has brought he and his partner of nearly 11 years even closer.
Even though California Gov. Jerry Brown is a defendent in the case (as was his predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger), he has not wanted the state to defend Proposition 8.
'The court has rendered a powerful affirmation of the right of same-sex couples to marry,' Brown said via Twitter after the ruling. 'I applaud the wisdom and courage of this decision.'
The ruling does not mean same-sex couples can immediately get married in California. Opponents are expected to file documents to halt marriages until the ruling can be reviewed. They are expected to appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court.