Aug. 4 was a joyous day for gay and lesbian Americans.
It was the day U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker overturned Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Saying that the proposition “is unconstitutional under both the due process and equal protection clauses,” Walker struck down the amendment to the Golden State’s constitution that was approved by voters in 2008. Learning of Walker’s ruling, I, a lesbian, felt a vital step had been taken in the long struggle waged by those fighting against inequality.
Few things are more painful than being unable to marry the one you love. In some states, everything from parenting rights to visits to your hospitalized mate to receiving an inheritance can be denied if you’re not married.
As Walker noted, what is most hurtful is the way you’re made to feel you’re “second class” if you’re an unmarried same-sex couple.
“The withholding of the designation ‘marriage’ significantly disadvantages” gays and lesbians, he noted. “Marriage is a culturally superior status compared to a domestic partnership.”
Opponents of same-sex marriage argue that public opinion is against gays and lesbians marrying. (Proposition 8 was passed by 52 percent of California’s voters.) Yet, majorities throughout history have condoned unjust practices such as slavery and the oppression of women.
Walker called the results of the vote on Proposition 8 “irrelevant” because (he quoted from a ruling in a 1943 case) “fundamental rights may not be submitted to a vote.”
As he explained: Moral disapproval of a group or class of citizens does not suffice, he said, “no matter how large the majority that shares that view. The evidence demonstrated beyond serious reckoning that Proposition 8 finds support only in such disapproval. As such, Proposition 8 is beyond the constitutional reach of the voters or their representatives.”
Walker also shredded the argument that marriage should remain between a man and a woman because of the need to procreate.
Not all straight married couples have children, and an increasing number of gay and lesbian couples are raising families, he noted. Banning same-sex marriage “exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and marriage. That time has passed,” Walker said in his decision.
Despite Walker’s historic ruling, achieving marriage equality for gay men and women is not assured.
Same-sex marriage is legal in five states and the District of Columbia, while 30 states have amendments prohibiting it. Walker’s decision is expected to be appealed in the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Same-sex couples in California won’t be able to marry during the year or more of the appeal process. The issue is likely to go before the U.S. Supreme Court (where a favorable outcome for same-sex marriage is far from certain).
Yet even with this uncertainty, I’m more hopeful than I ever have been, that at the end of the day, there will be inclusion and equality for gay and lesbian people in our country.
Kathi Wolfe is a writer and poet. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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