SAN FRANCISCO (RNN) - The cultural war over the definition of marriage reached another milestone Tuesday, as a federal court of appeals ruled California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
In a 2-1 ruling, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found Proposition 8, the voter initiative which defined marriage in California as a union between a man and a woman in 2008, to be in violation of the 14th Amendment.
"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 ruling said. "The Constitution simply does not allow for 'laws of this sort.'"
A three-judge panel on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals filed the opinion at 10 a.m. PT. The group was composed of Judge Stephen Reinhardt, a Carter appointee; Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, a Clinton appointee; and Judge N. Randy Smith, a George W. Bush appointee. Smith was the lone dissenter.
The ruling arrives as Washington braces this week to become the seventh state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriages. New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and Iowa all allow the marriages, as well as the District of Columbia.
The battle over same-sex marriage in California intensified in May 2008, after California's Supreme Court overturned 2000's voter-backed Proposition 22 and a 1997 law, each of which limited the scope of marriage.
"In view of the substance and significance of the fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship, the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples," Chief Justice Ronald M. George wrote in the 4-3 ruling.
About 18,000 couples were married before Prop. 8, also known as the "California Marriage Protection Act" by its supporters, was passed. The hot-button issue gathered $60 million in campaign contributions on each side.
Nearly two years later, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker deemed Prop. 8 unconstitutional in a 136-page ruling, setting the stage for Tuesday's court decision.
"A private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples is not a proper basis for legislation," Walker wrote in his decision.
Walker's personal life has since overshadowed his ruling, as it was brought to light that the judge had been in a long term relationship with another man, a fact that went undisclosed prior to his retirement from the bench in 2011. All three members of the 9th Circuit Court panel denied a motion to vacate Walker's decision based off the revelation.
It is uncertain whether appeals in Tuesday's ruling will first be sent to a larger 9th Circuit panel or to the Supreme Court. Whatever the case, pundits expect Prop. 8's fate to be ultimately decided by the nation's high court - a move unlikely to be decided in the near future.
"Even on a fast-track - unless they set something extraordinarily fast - this would not be re-heard in the Supreme Court until next fall sometime, and no decision until about a year from today," Rory Little of the Hastings School of Law said to KTVU.
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