Crime & Justice

Federal ruling expected soon in Prop 8 challenge

Several gay rights supporters waved rainbow-colored flags at the L.A. Pride Parade on Santa Monica Boulevard on Sunday, June 13, 2010.
Several gay rights supporters waved rainbow-colored flags at the L.A. Pride Parade on Santa Monica Boulevard on Sunday, June 13, 2010.
C.J. Dablo/KPCC

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A federal judge in San Francisco hears closing arguments this week in a case that challenges Proposition 8, California’s voter approved ban on gay marriage. The judge presiding over the case is expected to rule on the matter within weeks. The decision won’t likely resolve the issue for California or the nation soon.

Two same-sex couples in California – a gay male couple in Burbank and a lesbian couple in the Bay Area – applied for marriage licenses after voters passed Proposition 8. Their local registrars turned them down.

Their attorney, Ted Olson, says California’s ban on gay marriage violates his clients’ constitutional rights to due process, equal protection and freedom from discrimination – all protected by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"Our clients want to have those rights and wish to be treated equally. That is what this case is all about." Olsen told reporters on a conference call last week "We’re very, very gratified for the opportunity to represent these lovely human beings and hopefully to make a change in this country so that gay and lesbian individuals are treated with the respect that other citizens take for granted."

Perry v. Schwarzenegger is the first federal case to challenge a state’s ban on gay marriage on the grounds that it violates the U.S. Constitution.

"There is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage." Andy Pugno responded. The Sacramento-area attorney represents ProtectMarriage, the official campaign committee for Proposition 8. Pugno says Californians exercised their rights when they voted to prohibit same-sex marriages.

"It was very reasonable for the voters to decide to maintain the definition of marriage that’s been in place since California became a state. And that was not based on some irrational beliefs or any kind of negative animus toward any particular group of people."

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker – who presided over the year-long case – has asked attorneys to address a series of questions in their closing arguments. Among those questions: Is the right to marry a fundamental right? Is California’s ban on gay marriage rational? Does it need to be? Would allowing gays and lesbians to marry harm heterosexual marriage or the state? Does granting homosexuals the right to marry reduce discrimination against them?

The chief judge for the U.S. District Court of Northern California is expected to rule on the case within weeks. But Walker’s ruling won’t resolve the matter. Attorneys on both sides say that if they lose they’ll appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.