Civil rights took a step forward today as Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled in favor of same sex couples. The decision written by Judge Walker stated that California's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
The case brought together a legal dream team, former Republican Solicitor General Ted Olson and Democrat David Boies, prominently known as the attorneys who opposed one another before the landmark Supreme Court case of Bush v. Gore that decided the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. Olson and Boies are representing the plaintiffs.
Defenders of Proposition 8, the Protect Marriage group and former Justice Department official Charles Cooper, have already planned an immediately appeal of the ruling.
The decision comes off the heels of a recent defeat for gay rights supporters in Hawaii where Governor Linda Lingle vetoed a civil unions bill that would have granted same-sex couples the same protections as heterosexual couples.
While the complexities of the political and religious factors in this decision are immense, the decision should be celebrated as a move towards a more equal America. The Equal Protection Clause of 14th Amendment states that "no state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." After reading this it is hard to fathom why any legal argument could be applied to the act of denying equal rights to same-sex couples.
The recent actions by Governor Lingle has shown that Republicans and conservatives will not cede ground in providing equality to all citizens. Many of these conservatives argue that the court should respect the outcome of the election and the peoples' right to vote on social issues. But it would be ill advised for opponents of marriage equality to adopt the same arguments which were levied in support of Jim Crow Laws, interracial marriage, and a host of other discriminating statues. This should have never been a liberal or conservative issue, it is an issue on basic human liberty. At the core, denying the right for someone to decide whom he or she wants to marry is wholly un-American.
We live in a unique country, where we believe we were granted certain "unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Proposition 8 violated these cornerstone beliefs, and created a system where heterosexual couples were treated and regarded as superior to same-sex couples.
Even in the past few years, public support for gay marriage has been growing. A recent New York Times poll shows 42% of Americans are in favor of gay marriage, in contrast to 28% who believe same-sex couples should be denied full legal rights.
I fully understand the religious argument many have put forward. While I applaud and fully support the right for same-sex couples to marry, I do feel there is some middle ground on the issue. Instead of granting marriage licenses, states could issue civil unions to all couples, same-sex and heterosexual. Those who wish afterwards to proceed with a marriage ceremony can have such ritual with their clergy. This would take the government's role out of the religious institution portion of marriage and would allow those who wish to protect its "sanctity" to have that right. Thus the government would only recognize civil unions for all, while those with religious founding can still fully practice their beliefs. However, I do not feel this is a realistic option at this point in the debate. As Judge Walker stated in his decision:
"The availability of domestic partnership does not provide gays and lesbians with a status equivalent to marriage because the cultural meaning of marriage and its associated benefits are intentionally withheld from same-sex couples in domestic partnerships."
As we still begin to dive into the decision by Judge Walker, it is now a race to the Supreme Court. Whether or not it will be the one argued before the Court is still up in the air. Earlier this year, U.S. District Court judge ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), stating it is an affront and a constitutional infringement on a states' right to define marriage. We will have to wait and see which case the Court agrees to hear.
Wherever one falls on the issue, we can agree is that this is a landmark decision for the country.