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Federal Appeals Court Rules Prop. 8 Ban On Same-Sex Marriage Unconstitutional

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Proposition 8, California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, is unconstitutional because it violates the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law.

But backers of the controversial, voter-approved law quickly signaled that they planned to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A KPIX-TV CBS 5 poll conducted shortly after the decision came down found an overwhelming majority of Bay Area residents agreed with the appeals court ruling and said the Supreme Court should let it stand.

RELATED CONTENT: Download The Complete CBS 5 Poll Results (.pdf)

The appeals court ruled 2-1 to uphold the decision of a lower court judge, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker of San Francisco, who determined in Aug. 2010 that Prop. 8 was a violation of the civil rights of gays and lesbians. The panel also rejected claims that Walker, now retired, was biased in his ruling because he is gay and in a long-term relationship with another man.

"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," the ruling stated.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt, the author of the majority opinion, went on to write: "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."

Download The Complete Court Ruling (.pdf)
Download A Summary Of The Decision (.pdf)

Reihardt, who was appointed to the appeals court by President Jimmy Carter, was joined in the majority opinion by Judge Michael Hawkins, an appointee of President Bill Clinton.

Judge Randy Smith, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, dissented, saying he disagreed that Prop. 8 served no purpose other than to treat gays and lesbians as second-class citizens. He insisted that the ban could help ensure that children are raised by married, opposite-sex parents.

KCBS' Doug Sovern and Barbara Taylor Report:

Tuesday's ruling did not mean, however, that gay marriages would resume in California anytime soon as the decision of the three judges appeared to pave the way for a likely Supreme Court showdown over the issue.

"No court should presume to redefine marriage. No court should undercut the democratic process by taking the power to preserve marriage out of the hands of the people," Brian Raum, one of the lawyers hired to defend Prop. 8, said in an e-mail sent to CBS San Francisco.

"We are not surprised that this Hollywood-orchestrated attack on marriage -- tried in San Francisco -- turned out this way. But we are confident that the expressed will of the American people in favor of marriage will be upheld at the Supreme Court," Raum added.

Margaret Russell, a professor of constitutional law at Santa Clara University School of Law, told CBS San Francisco that the Supreme Court did not need a conflicting circuit-court decision in order to take up the case, but rather just four justices who deem it worthy of review.

Prop. 8 passed with 52 percent of the vote in 2008 and outlawed same-sex marriages just five months after they became legal in California. Two same-sex couples then brought a lawsuit in 2009 seeking to overturn the measure.

PHOTO GALLERY: The Proposition 8 Court Battle

American Foundation for Equal Rights President Chad Griffin, who formed the legal team that waged the court battle on behalf of the two couples, called the three-judge panel's ruling "a historic victory."

More than 150 people who gathered outside the federal courthouse at Mission and Seventh streets in downtown San Francisco also greeted ruling with cheers. They held signs and waved rainbow flags.

"I'm ecstatic. I recognize that we have a ways to go yet. We may have one or two more legal steps," said Jane Leyland, who was gathered with the courthouse crowd.

Leyland married her longtime partner, Terry Gilb, during the five-month window when same-sex marriage was legal in California before Prop. 8 was enacted. An estimated 18,000 same-sex couples tied the knot during that time.

State officials had declined to defend Prop. 8 in court, leaving it in the hands of proponents of the measure to mount a defense, after they concluded that the law could not be defended on constitutional grounds.

Both Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris hailed Tuesday's decision. In a statement sent to CBS San Francisco, Harris called it "a victory for fairness, a victory for equality and a victory for justice."

Brown also issued a statement, in which he said, "The court has rendered a powerful affirmation of the right of same-sex couples to marry. I applaud the wisdom and courage of this decision."

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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