The U.S. Supreme Court; California Gay Marriage (Proposition 8) Case Explained in Plain English

In 2000, California voters adopted Proposition 22, which amended California family law and provided that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” In May 2008, the California Supreme Court struck down Proposition 22, finding that it violated the due process and equal protection guarantees of the California Constitution, and ordered the State to issue marriage licenses without regard to the sex of the prospective spouses. Months later California voters adopted Proposition 8, which amended the California Constitution to state, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

In 2012, the Federal Ninth Circuit ruled that the enactment of Proposition 8 violates the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause and is therefore unconstitutional (under the 14th Amendment you need, at minimum, a rational reason for treating classes of people differently). The federal appeals court found that Proposition 8 had no practical effect except to strip gay men and lesbians of a right that was guaranteed by California’s Constitution (since the California Supreme Court declared marriage a fundamental just a few months prior). The court also said that “Proposition 8 singles out same-sex couples for unequal treatment by taking away from them alone the right to marry,” and that it “was enacted with only the constitutionally illegitimate basis of animus toward the class it affects.” Under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, this is a “distinct constitutional violation” in that it subjected a minority group to “the deprivation of an existing right without a legitimate reason.” The case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court and it is being asked to decide, whether the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment prohibits the State of California from defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Last week the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the case. Based on the questioning, it appears that the Court does not wish to decide the big question and will likely either dismiss the petition (determine that they shouldn’t have taken the case in the first place) or decide the case on procedural grounds.

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