Today, Love is Victorious

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today ruled that Judge Vaughn Walker got it right when he found California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional under the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the United States Constitution. It’s a long-awaited and historic victory: LGBT Americans are again full and equal citizens of California!

But we cannot yet marry. Once again the decision was stayed while the opponents of equality again appeal to a higher court, again attempting to delay the day when we are fully free.

When they write the history of California’s struggle with the freedom to marry it will be difficult, if not impossible, to capture the hundreds of thousands trapped in an endless iteration of court battles and ballot propositions that at once assert, “No, you are not full citizens.” And then, “Yes, you are full citizens of this state and nation – free to love, commit your lives to each other, and to marry.” And then again, “No, we’ve decided you are again second-class citizens.” Back and forth, back and forth.

Odd to have your rights, dignity and worthiness endlessly debated. Odder still to have your fellow citizens vote on your basic rights with often nothing more to inform them than their fears, fantasies and biases about people they don’t know or understand. And the oddest thing of all may end up being that there never was any evidence that the committed love and marriage of gays and lesbians is anything more than joyous and human.

But today – we celebrate a day in that history when love is victorious and we are free.

History of Marriage Equality in California

California’s struggle for freedom and marriage equality spans almost 15 years and is among the strangest in the nation. It’s been a long road involving hundreds of thousands of Californians in more than a decade of struggle for fairness, freedom and equality.

In March 2000, Proposition 22 (the Knight initiative) was adopted by a vote of the people of California (61.4% to 38%), adding one sentence to the California Family Code explicitly defining the union of a man and a woman as the only valid form of marriage in the State of California. The California Supreme Court invalidated the results of Proposition 22 in 2008.

In 2004, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom permitted marriages without regard to gender in San Francisco. These marriages were continued for a month and were then banned, resulting in the lawsuits that would end with the California Supreme Court finding the same-sex marriage ban in California unconstitutional in May 2008.

In 2005, the California legislature became the first legislature in the nation to approve a marriage equality bill. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to sign it. The following year, the California legislature again passed a marriage equality bill. And again, Governor Schwarzenegger refused to sign it.

Four years ago, in a historic ruling in May 2008, Chief Justice Ron George and the California Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting same-sex marriage and allowing only opposite-sex marriages was unconstitutional in the State of California. Three and a half years ago, angered by the coming court ruling, a group of Californians began collecting funds and signatures to place the issue of the fundamental right of marriage on the November 2008 ballot in order to nullify the Supreme Court ruling. This measure became Proposition 8.

Following the historic California Supreme Court ruling, marriage equality in California became legal in June 2008 and continued to be legal until November 2008, when Proposition 8 passed in California (52% to 48%). Proposition 8 again resulted in a marriage ban in California.

The Proposition 8 battle in California was the most expensive, divisive and brutal ballot initiative in California history, pitting family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors against each other. Anyone who lived through those five months can’t help but remember the vitriol. Endless television and radio commercials insisted that the institution of marriage, and indeed society itself, would crumble if marriage equality was the law of the land.

Following Proposition 8, the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) filed suit in a United States District Court asserting that Proposition 8 violates both the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. In January 2010, Judge Vaughn Walker began a trial, and after hours of testimony ruled that Proposition 8 violates the U.S. Constitution. In August 2010 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to take the case and heard oral argument in December 2010. The result of those arguments was released in the 9th Circuit Court opinion today, February 7, 2012.