U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker handed down his decision overturning Proposition 8 Wednesday afternoon. However, the judge also issued a stay on same-sex marriages. In other words, gay and lesbian couples wanting to get married in California will have to wait to see if the appeal process upholds Walker's ruling.
In his 138-page ruling Walker found that the defense did not present credible evidence and that the proposition was "irrational." In conclusion he found that:
"Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite- sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional."
Daniel Blomberg, an Alliance Defense Fund attorney, was part of the legal defense team arguing in favor of Proposition 8. The defense team argued that civil unions gave same-sex couples similar civil rights as marriage and that allowing same-sex marriage would have an adverse affect on children.
"One judge in San Francisco ignored the law and put himself above the 7 million people in California who voted on this," Blomberg said in an interview with KQED News this afternoon. "Basically his ruling is that those 7 million people and the majority of Americans across the country who made their votes, who cast their votes to protect the definition of marriage, were irrational."
The case is set to go on to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals where it will be heard by three judges. These judges can feel free to revisit the case and do not have to follow Walker's reasoning, according to Vikram David Amar, Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the UC Davis School of Law.
The 9th Circuit ruling could have much farther-reaching consequences. If the court upholds Walker's decision then it could find that any laws holding that marriage is only recognized between a man and woman -- specifically in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington -- would be invalid, said Eugene Volokh, a professor at the UCLA School of Law.
Crowds around the federal courthouse, San Francisco City Hall and in the Castro were excited about the ruling, but also recognized that there was a long fight ahead. As KQED reporter Mina Kim noted, many same-sex marriage supporters feel encouraged by the ruling today, but are keeping their celebrations in check.
You can listen to a special 30-minute radio program from KQED News examining what the ruling means and how Judge Walker put it together, as well as a look ahead to the appeal process. Click on the player below, or go to the radio archives.