Jay Kaplan, ACLU of Michigan LGBT Project staff attorney

There’s much reason to celebrate Judge Vaughan Walker’s decision striking down Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that excluded same-sex couples from marriage.

This is the first federal court to address the issue and, in the judge's exhaustive 136-page opinion, he is in agreement with each argument raised by LGBT supporters – the opponents of Prop 8.

The ruling holds denying gay couple the fundamental right to marry – not to have “gay marriage” or “same-sex marriage,” but marriage itself – violates the due process clause of our constitution, interfering with an individual’s right to decide with whom to enter into a committed relationship. The judge also ruled that denying same-sex couples this freedom also violates the equal protection clause.

Judge Walker wrote: “Proposition 8 places the force of law behind stigmas against gays and lesbians,” including the notion that “gays and lesbians are not as good as heterosexuals and their relationships do not deserve the full recognition of society.”

Applying the lowest level of constitutional scrutiny to Prop 8, the court found that there is no rational basis for having a legal distinction in California between heterosexual marriage and same-sex unions. The opinion painstakingly reviews the factual record, including the expert testimony of both sides, concluding that proponents of Prop 8 failed to prove their arguments in justification of the marriage ban and found that there was a lack of credible expert testimony offered by proponents to support their arguments. Critical of the proponents of Prop 8, the judge pointedly noted:
  • Denying gays the right to marry does not encourage heterosexual couples to marry and procreate.
  • Tradition is not legal justification for discrimination and the concept of marriage in the United States has not remained stagnant. In fact it has moved from a male dominated legal institution to a legal institution that now treats genders equally.
  • There are no studies to prove that gay parents are less capable than heterosexual parents at raising children.
  • Moral disapproval of homosexuals or the belief that heterosexual relationships are superior to same-sex ones are not constitutional justification for discrimination.
We can’t yet know what the impact of this historic ruling will be on Michigan and other states with marriage bans as the case will be appealed and eventually end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. But one thing we do know is that we can’t just wait for marriage equality to be decided by the courts. We must continue our work on relationship recognition on the ground by telling our stories. LGBT people still get fired from their jobs just for being who they are, young people still get harassed in school for seeming gay, and in some states, same-sex couples can't foster or adopt kids while children in need go without homes.

LGBT visibility is key. We’ve learned progress on equality occurs when we can successfully change hearts and minds through meaningful, detailed conversations about what our lives are really like. I encourage you, through the Tell 3 campaign, to have three conversations with friends and family about what it’s like for you or a loved one to be LGBT.