BY ROB SALERNO - The Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling that found California's Proposition 8 -- which amended the state constitution to establish that marriage is limited to one-man/one-woman arrangements -- is unconstitutional, paving the way for gay marriage to be legalized once again.
The three-judge panel ruled 2-1 that lower court Judge Vaughan Walker ruled correctly that Prop 8 violated the equal protection clauses of the US Constitution. It was significant that the voter initiative sought to take away established rights of a minority group -- thereby targeting a group with no rational basis. The appeals court also ruled that Judge Walker, who is openly gay, was not required to recuse himself from the case due to bias.
Generally, rulings from the federal circuit apply to all states under the circuit's jurisdiction, but it appears that this ruling applies narrowly to the characteristics of California's Proposition 8. So it won't grant equal marriage to the other states under the Ninth Circuit.
It also doesn't appear to mean that Californians can enter same-sex marriages right away. Walker's ruling was stayed pending appeals, and it's likely that ProtectMarriage -- the backers of Proposition 8 -- will appeal further, either to a larger panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals or to the Supreme Court.
Lawyers for the couples that sued for the right to marry believe that the Supreme Court would rule in their favour, given that the current judgment relies heavily on Supreme Court precedent, including Loving v Virginia, which struck down state laws banning interracial marriage; Lawrence v Texas, which struck down anti-sodomy laws in several states; and Romer v Evans, which struck down an amendment to Colorado's constitution that banned the state and its cities from taking any action to recognize gays and lesbians as a protected class.
Same-sex marriage is already the law in Connecticut, Massachussets, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Iowa and Washington, DC. It is expected to be passed into law in Washington state shortly, and legislatures are debating it in Maryland and New Jersey. There's also a planned referendum to allow same-sex marriage in Maine in November. North Carolina, Minnesota and New Hampshire are currently debating constitutional amendments that may be presented to voters to ban same-sex marriage. The federal government is barred by the Defense of Marriage Act from recognizing gay marriage.