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Federal judge throws out California gay marriage ban

By John Byrne
Wednesday, August 4, 2010 16:56 EDT
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UPDATE: Right wing groups slam ‘tyrannical, abusive’ California gay marriage ruling

AFA: Judge should have recused himself because he’s gay

Conservative groups across the United States wasted no time Wednesday condemning a California federal judge’s ruling that the state’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage is unconstitutional.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich called the decision “an outrageous disrespect for our Constitution” and used the opportunity to take aim at Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, whose nomination is being voted on by the Senate on Thursday.

“Congress now has the responsibility to act immediately to reaffirm marriage as a union of one man and one woman as our national policy,” Gingrich said in a statement. “Today’s notorious decision also underscores the importance of the Senate vote tomorrow on the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court because judges who oppose the American people are a growing threat to our society.”

In his ruling, US District Judge Vaughn Walker said, “The evidence shows that Prop. 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 Prop. 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes the Prop. 8 is unconstitutional.”

The American Family Association responded by saying that Judge Walker should have recused himself because he is reportedly gay.

“His situation is no different than a judge who owns a porn studio being asked to rule on an anti-pornography statute,” AFA President Tim Wildmon said in a statement emailed to media. “He’d have to recuse himself on conflict of interest grounds, and Judge Walker should have done that.”

(No word yet on whether the AFA would have requested that a straight, married judge also recuse him- or herself on the same grounds.)

Wildmon described the ruling as “a tyrannical, abusive and utterly unconstitutional display of judicial arrogance. Judge Walker has turned ‘We the People’ into ‘I the Judge.’”

In a statement to the press Wednesday, the Mormon church, which is considered to have been the most powerful force pushing for the passage of Proposition 8 during the 2008 elections, took a much subdued tone.

“There is no doubt that today’s ruling will add to the marriage debate in this country and we urge people on all sides of this issue to act in a spirit of mutual respect and civility toward those with a different opinion,” church spokeswoman Kim Farah said, as quoted at the Associated Press.

In its statement, the National Organization for Marriage attacked the lawyers who fought against Prop 8 as “egomaniacal” and promised that the overruling of California’s gay marriage ban would be “temporary.”

“For the past 20 years, gay marriage groups have fought to avoid cases filed in federal court for one good reason – they will eventually lose,” NOM stated. “But these groups do not have control of the Schwarzenegger v. Perry case, which is being litigated by two egomaniacal lawyers (Ted Olson and David Boies). So while they congratulate themselves over their victory before their home-town judge today, let’s not lose sight of the fact that this case is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, where the right of states to define marriage as being between one man and one woman will be affirmed.”

ORIGINAL STORY FOLLOWS BELOW

Chief Judge Vaughn Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California declared Wednesday that the amendment to the California Constitution barring same-sex marriage, adopted in November 2008 as Proposition 8, violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process.

Read the judge’s full ruling here, courtesy of Arizona Progress.

Freedom to Marry, the national nonprofit fighting for same-sex marriage equality, issued a statement praising the decision.

“Today’s federal ruling strikes down a cruel and unfair constitutional amendment that should never have become law and affirms that the freedom to marry belongs to every American,” the group said in a statement. “As the first court to strike down race restrictions on marriage said in 1948, ‘the essence of the right to marry is freedom to join in marriage with the person of one’s choice.’”

“There is no gay exception in the Constitution to personal choice and the right to marry, and there is no good reason to continue excluding same-sex couples from marriage,” the group added. “Judge Walker’s decision will be appealed and litigation will continue, but what we witnessed in the clear light of his courtroom cannot be erased. The witnesses, evidence, and arguments all demonstrated what we’ve long known: exclusion from marriage harms committed same-sex couples and their families, while helping no one, and the unjustified and unfair denial of marriage to same-sex couples violates the United States Constitution. The judge’s ruling reflects the growing consensus in courtrooms and legislatures across the country, and around the world, that there is simply no good reason to exclude same-sex couples from marriage.”

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FROM A PRESS RELEASE ISSUED AT 4:55 PM ET TO RAW STORY FROM THE HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN.

WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign – the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization – today praised the historic decision of Chief Judge Vaughn Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, which declared that the amendment to the California Constitution barring marriage for same-sex couples, adopted in November 2008 as Proposition 8, violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process.

“After hearing extensive evidence in support of marriage equality, and essentially no defense of the discrimination wrought by Prop 8, Judge Walker reached the same conclusion we have always known to be true – the Constitution’s protections are for all Americans, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “We thank the courageous plaintiff couples, the American Foundation for Equal Rights, and attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies for their tremendous efforts leading to today’s decision and their ongoing commitment as the case moves forward on appeal. The battle for marriage equality continues, and we must all continue our work – in courthouses and statehouses, in church pews and living rooms – until equality is reality for LGBT people and our families everywhere.”

In response to a 2008 decision by the California Supreme Court ending marriage discrimination in the state, anti-equality forces succeeded in placing a constitutional amendment on the November ballot. Despite over 18,000 same-sex couples having married, California voters adopted the amendment, known as Proposition 8. After the California Supreme Court determined in 2009 that the adoption of Prop 8 did not itself violate the California Constitution, two plaintiff couples — Kris Perry and Sandy Stier and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo – filed suit against the State of California in federal court, represented by attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies and supported by the American Foundation for Equal Rights. The proponents of Prop 8 intervened in the case to defend the constitutionality of the amendment.

Judge Walker held a historic trial in January, in which the plaintiffs presented substantial testimony and evidence to show that Prop 8’s only purpose is to discriminate against same-sex couples. Both sides have previously indicated that they would appeal Judge Walker’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and the case may ultimately be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

 
 
 
 
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