- Sasha Issenberg
February 7, 2012: Federal court upholds Prop 8 ruling
ON THIS DAY IN 2012...
A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit upheld a circuit court’s ruling that a gay-marriage ban approved by California voters more than three and a half years earlier violated the Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process.
None of the state’s elected officials, including newly elected attorney general Kamala Harris, were willing to defend the law in court. Instead, the California Supreme Court determined that responsibility could be assumed by the activists who had helped to place Proposition 8 on the ballot and campaigned for its passage. The three judges of the Ninth Circuit who heard the case on appeal upheld the lower court’s ruling. “Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the two-judge majority.
Those who lost appealed once again, this time to the U.S. Supreme Court, which that December would agree to take up the matter. Previously labeled Perry v. Schwarzenegger and Perry v. Brown, the case would now be known as Hollingsworth v. Perry — named not for one of the governors, who had both refused to defend the law, but for a retired legislative leader who had been campaigned on behalf of Proposition 8. Those circumstances brought gay marriage to the highest court tagged with an important jurisdictional asterisk: was it the sole province of elected officials to defend state laws or did the citizens who introduced and passed a referendum have the standing to take matters into their own hands?