While opponents of marriage equality were expressing outrage Tuesday over the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling that California's Proposition 8 -- which eliminated marriage for same-sex couples -- was unconstitutional, marriage equality supporters across the country exhibited excitement and joy over the decision.
Going forward, the 2-1 decision could be appealed to the full 9th Circuit Appeals Court, or it could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Though the Prop 8 ruling was too narrow to address the broader issue of same-sex marriage, it could have an impact on states that have already passed or are likely to pass marriage equality legislation and are then threatened with a ballot measure to overturn the law.
Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told The American Independent that the ruling set a precedent for states that extend the right to marry to gay and lesbian couples: They can’t turn around and take that right away.
“Before California, no state has ever taken away the existing right to marry,” he said. “The fact that they did it was so overtly discriminatory.”
Both Maryland and Washington state are anticipated to pass marriage equality legislation this year (in Washington a same-sex marriage bill has advanced in both chambers), but in both cases, there would be opportunity for anti-gay groups to launch a voter referendum to overturn the legislation. Last year, Maryland Del. Emmett C. Burns, Jr. (D-Baltimore told The American Independent that he and other religious leaders had already begun discussing a voter referendum campaign – before this year’s legislation had even been introduced. In Maryland the voter referendum process is particularly easy: Only 3 percent of the votes cast for governor in the preceding gubernatorial election are needed to get a referendum on the ballot.
“[The ruling] may neutralize the threat of a right being taken away,” Minter said. “It’s very easy for voters to put a measure on the ballot and subject it to a popular vote, but this is a terrible threat to the equality of gay people. This hangs over our heads in a very looming way.
“There is damage caused by having human rights put up for a vote,” he continued. “It’s very traumatizing even for people who don’t want to get married.”
Other groups in support of marriage equality hailed the decision.
Evan Wolfson from Freedom to Marry issued this statement:
Today’s powerful court ruling striking down the infamous Prop 8 affirms basic American values and helps tear down a discriminatory barrier to marriage that benefits no one while making it harder for people to take care of their loved ones. The Ninth Circuit rightly held that a state simply may not take a group of people and shove them outside the law, least of all when it comes to something as important as the commitment and security of marriage. We salute the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which brought this challenge to Prop 8.
This monumental appellate decision restores California to the growing list of states and countries that have ended exclusion from marriage, and will further accelerate the surging nationwide majority for marriage. As this and other important challenges to marriage discrimination move through the courts around the country, Freedom to Marry calls on all Americans to join us in ensuring that together we make as strong a case in the court of public opinion as our legal advocates are making in the courts of law. By growing the majority for marriage, winning more states, and tackling federal discrimination – Freedom to Marry’s ‘Roadmap to Victory’ – we maximize our chances of winning when one case or another finally reaches the U.S. Supreme Court.
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese issued the following media statement:
We thank the courageous plaintiff couples, the American Foundation for Equal Rights, and attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies for their years of work leading to today's decision. This is not the end of the road, for this case or for the larger struggle for marriage equality. We must all continue our work - in courthouses and statehouses, in church pews and living rooms - until equality is reality for LGBT people and our families everywhere.
Meanwhile, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey had this to say about the ruling:
The court’s ruling affirms what millions of people all across the country already know — loving, committed same-sex couples and their families should be able to share in the celebration and responsibilities of marriage. People from every background and every circumstance get this; they understand because being able to marry the one you love and care for your family are shared values that strike at the very core of who we are as a people. Denying loving couples and their families something so fundamental is to deny our common humanity. Congratulations to the plaintiffs and their families. This is a great day for them, for all Californians, and for all Americans.
In a departure from praising the ruling, the American Family Association of Michigan, through its president (and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate) Gary Glenn, issued a statement attacking the ruling.
The ruling by the most overturned, left-wing appeals court in America was boringly predictable. Arrogant as it is, it no longer carries any shock value that two activist elitist federal judges presumed themselves more intelligent and enlightened than the millions of California voters who voted to constitutionally protect one-man, one-woman marriage from being radically redefined.
Still, it's just a pit stop on the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Once there, not only California's but Michigan's and twenty-eight other states' Marriage Protection Amendments will be on the line, all approved by voters with an average 68 percent voting in favor.
Hopefully, Justice Scalia will be proven wrong when he predicted in Lawrence v. Texas a decade ago that the Supreme Court was laying the groundwork to declare a Constitutional "right" to so-called homosexual "marriage" in all 50 states, followed by polygamy and whatever follows that once the definition of marriage is opened up to the demands of the latest special interest group's public pressure tactics. Hopefully, at least five members of the U.S. Supreme Court will show more judicial restraint and more respect for the overwhelming will of the people evidenced in statewide ballot votes in Michigan and California and 28 other states.
The only certain way to protect and preserve one-man, one-woman marriage anywhere in America will be for Congress to use its Constitutional authority to declare that federal judges no longer have jurisdiction to rule on issues involving the definition of marriage, or for Congress and 37 state legislatures to approve a Marriage Protection Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Finally, Equality Michigan Executive Director Denise Brogan-Kator issued this statement on the ruling, addressing issues beyond marriage that are particularly important to LGBT Americans:
We look forward to continued movement toward the day when all people enjoy the fundamental freedom to marry. Unfortunately, gay residents of Michigan are still denied the opportunity to marry the person they love. It’s one of the many ways that our state has failed our gay and transgender residents. It’s still legal to fire an employee or evict someone from their home because of sexual orientation or gender identity, and thousands of gay and transgender Michiganders struggle to achieve basic economic security for themselves and their families.
Contributed reporting by Sofia Resnick
Photo: New Yorkers celebrate the law legalizing gay marriage in June 2011 (source: Flickr/Zach Roberts).