Proposition 8, the voter-approved state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in California, was struck down as unconstitutional by a 2-1 vote of a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. From the ruling’s opening paragraphs, the respect for dignity of gay men and lesbians seeking the rights and responsibility that go with marriage was apparent.

Although the Constitution permits communities to enact most laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently. There was no such reason that Proposition 8 could have been enacted. Because under California statutory law, same-sex couples had all the rights of oopposite-sex couples, regardless of their marital status, all parties agree that Proposition 8 had one effect only. It stripped same-sex couples of the ability they previously possessed to obtain from the State, or any other authorized party, an important right -- the right to obtain and use the designation of ‘marriage’ to describe their relationships. Nothing more, nothing less. Proposition 8 therefore could not have been enacted to advance California’s interests in childbearing or responsible procreation, for it had no effect on the rights of same-sex coupes to raise children or on the procreative practices of other couples. Nor did Proposition 8 have any effect on religious freedom or on parents’ rights to control their children’s education; it could not have been enacted to safeguard those liberties.

All that Proposition 8 accomplished was to take away from same-sex couples the right to be granted marriage licenses and thus legally to use the designation of ‘marriage,’ which symbolizes state legitimization and societal recognition of their committed relationships. 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. The Constitution simply does not allow for “laws of this sort.” Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620, 633 (1996)

This is by no means the end of the matter. Proponents of Prop 8 can appeal to either the full Ninth Circuit appeals court or directly to the Supreme Court. And there will be plenty to say about this historic opinion in the days and months ahead. But the Ninth Circuit has spoken — and its words are music to the ears of all who believe that the right to the pursuit of happiness should apply to gay men and lesbians.