Federal court repeals same-sex marriage ban

Aug. 5, 2010, 12:36 a.m.

In a long-awaited victory for gay rights advocates, a federal judge in San Francisco struck down Proposition 8 yesterday, overturning the 2008 voter initiative banning same-sex marriage in California.

The decision from federal judge Vaughn Walker, J.D. ‘70 was lauded by gay-rights luminaries as a major win for civil rights, while lambasted by traditional marriage groups, who have said that they will appeal the ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. While Walker’s ruling overturns Prop. 8, the decision will not immediately lead to any new same-sex marriages in the state of California.

Federal court repeals same-sex marriage ban
Aidan Dunn '11 celebrates in front of the Courthouse in San Francisco, as Judge Vaughn Walker announced his decision to overturn Proposition 8 yesterday. Dunn has been a longtime activist for gay rights. (Photo Courtesy of Aidan Dunn)

This decision was the news that Aidan Dunn ’11 had been waiting for since he came out at age 15. He was one of the thousands of citizens in San Francisco who celebrated Walker’s ruling on the San Francisco courthouse steps yesterday afternoon.

“Today is a great day,” Dunn said. “For me personally, it means that someday I might be able to marry the person that I love. What I hope it means for the community is that we start fighting for more queer and social justice issues.”

Dunn, now 26, has been an activist for gay rights for 11 years, and has traveled the globe as a queer ambassador pressing for equality. He worked on the “No on Prop. 8” campaign at Stanford in the fall of 2008, and celebrated via Facebook with the scores of other Stanford students who had raised their voices on the issue.

If the ruling is upheld, California would join Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C. in allowing gay marriage.

Also celebrating the news was Kenzie Seal ’12, co-founder of the National Marriage Boycott (NMB) and NMB’s current chief financial officer, who started the youth-led movement to swear off marriage until homosexual couples are granted full federal marriage equality.

He attended a rally yesterday afternoon in San Francisco, along with throngs of other supporters, to applaud Walker’s decision.

“For the first time in the history of Prop. 8, this will be a celebration,” Seal said. “This one will have a lot more energy than what we’ve seen in the past. We fell into a sort of losing streak, but it’s great to see equality finally come out on top.”

Stanford students overwhelming agreed with Seal back in 2008, with 87 percent voting against Prop. 8, according to a 147-person exit poll conducted by The Daily at the Graduate Community Center on Election Day. Californians, however, did not feel the same way, with voters approving the ban on gay marriage by a 52-percent margin, six months after the California Supreme Court had ruled than the state constitution allowed same-sex marriage. The state high court later upheld Prop. 8 as a legitimate revision to the state Constitution.

Judge Walker viewed the case as an equality issue as well, striking down arguments from the prosecution on the grounds of due process and equal protection.

“Proposition 8 singles out gays and lesbians and legitimates their unequal treatment,” he wrote in his 136-page decision. “Proposition 8 perpetuates the stereotype that gays and lesbians are incapable of forming long-term loving relationships and that gays and lesbians are not good parents.”

Protect Marriage, the network of conservative groups that sponsored the ban, was not pleased with the ruling and said it would immediately appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The case could eventually make its way to the United States Supreme Court, where the justices would finally confront the question of whether same-sex couples have the right to marry.

But don’t call the ruling a landmark just yet, said Michael Wald, an emeritus professor at the law school.

“I think it’s an important ruling,” Wald said. “It’s the first federal court, as opposed to a state court, that has ruled that prohibitions on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. The state supreme courts in Massachusetts, Connecticut and California, for example, have all ruled this based on state constitutions. In this sense, I think today’s decision is a very important ruling, but it’s not anything that hasn’t been done before.”

Gary Segura, a political science professor who also testified on the civil rights implications at the Prop. 8 trial, agreed.

“I believe that this has the potential to be landmark case, but again, we’re just not sure because this has to go through the appellate process,” he said. “Ultimately, if the Supreme Court upholds Walker’s decision, this could be the most important case for gay rights. And if the Supreme Court doesn’t uphold this decision, this would be a step in the right direction, but it would be another case that was unsuccessful. We just won’t know for another year or more.”

Still, moving the issue up the legal pipeline is progress, Dunn said. In his years working on the issue, he says this victory may be the most significant.

Jeff Gerson ’12, who currently interns at The Advocate, a gay news magazine and website based in Los Angeles, says this may be a victory, but it’s a long time in coming. He said that he felt more vindication than surprise at Walker’s ruling.

Gerson threw himself into the gay rights cause as a freshman, manning phone banks and picketing at rallies around campus. He was emotionally stricken when Prop. 8 passed.

“It was a devastating blow — everyone was dressed in black,” he remembered. “To be honest, it wore a lot of us out.”

“I think this is really good because it gives advocates a huge boost and brings us back into the picture,” he added.

But Seal doesn’t think the fight is over by any means. Judge Walker’s decision won’t go into effect until the appeal is processed, due to a hold that the judge himself put on the ruling. And if it goes to the Supreme Court, Seal says, “it’s not going to be an easy victory.”

“We’re not done yet,” Dunn agreed. “But it’s nice to take some time to celebrate because really, this is a big deal.”

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