Ruling on same-sex marriage decisively restores a right

Friday, August 6, 2010

IT IS HARD to quarrel with the conclusions of the federal judge who on Wednesday overruled Proposition 8, a California public referendum limiting marriage to one man and one woman, on the grounds that denying marriage rights to same-sex couples violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of due process and equal protection.

The fact that a single judge could nullify the votes of some 5.5 million voters is cause for concern -- not least because of the potential for political backlash. Yet Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California had no choice but to decide this case once it landed before him; two same-sex California couples challenged Proposition 8 after being denied a marriage license. The judge oversaw a three-week trial during which supporters of same-sex marriage introduced a mountain of evidence showing its social, political, psychological and economic benefits. Opponents, meanwhile, put on an extraordinarily weak case, with a paucity of evidence and a short slate of feckless and often erratic witnesses.

Opponents of same-sex marriage, for example, argued that traditional marriage is necessary to ensure procreation and the continuation of the human race. But as Judge Walker rightly concluded, the ability to produce offspring has never been a prerequisite for granting heterosexual couples marriage licenses.

Judge Walker had to make a determination based only on the evidence introduced in court. So it should have come as little surprise when he concluded that Proposition 8 must be struck down because defenders had failed to make even a minimal showing that it advanced any legitimate public policy purpose.

Proposition 8 was a wrongheaded and at times mean-spirited campaign to deny loving and committed same-sex couples the same rights and privileges enjoyed by their opposite-sex counterparts. Yet opponents of same-sex marriage have vowed to appeal Judge Walker's ruling, setting up a possible showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court. Others are talking about pushing for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages.

This strong and immediate pushback is evidence, once again, that how social progress is achieved can have a profound effect on whether it is widely accepted. We believe that the establishment of gay marriage, which we support, would be best and most permanently achieved through the democratic process and not by judicial fiat. But now that this controversy has reached the courts, Judge Walker's well-founded ruling should be upheld. There should be no room in this country for discrimination that would relegate same-sex couples to second-class status.

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