There was a major win for same-sex marriage in California on Tuesday that could set up an even bigger fight at the U.S. Supreme Court — a showdown that all backers of marriage equality should embrace.
In 2008, California voters passed an amendment to the state Constitution banning marriages for same-sex couples. Supporters of same-sex marriage promptly sued to overturn the amendment, Proposition 8. Marriage equality supporters argued that the amendment egregiously stripped California residents of fundamental rights for no overriding public good.
U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker agreed and overturned the voter-approved measure. His decision was upheld by a panel of three judges in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Tuesday, the rest of the appeals court agreed not to contest the ruling.
Supporters of Prop. 8 said Tuesday they would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, which is known as Perry v. Brown. The Supreme Court could decide whether to hear the case by October and rule on the case as early as June 2013.
The battle at the conservative-leaning Supreme Court is daunting for sure, but it is necessary for the greater equality of same-sex couples. For too long, the rights and dignity of gays and lesbians have been subject to the whims of legislators across numerous states and the voting public. The legal fight to secure their rights has advanced in fits and starts, from state to state, in oddly oblique arguments over equal protection clauses, religious liberties and judicial activism.
No more. It’s time for some clarity. There needs to be a ruling from the Supreme Court that same-sex marriage is as fundamental a right as interracial marriage. As we have said before on these pages, the issue cannot be handled in piecemeal, state-by-state decisions.
As the Prop. 8 argument possibly heads for the U.S. Supreme Court, it is worth noting that the 9th Circuit ruling merely concerns the constitutionality of taking rights away from Californians once they have been granted — in this case, by a ruling by the California Supreme Court. Legal experts claim that this was an attempt to limit the scope of the argument.
But as we’ve seen in rulings from gun rights to campaign-finance reform, the John Roberts-led court is perfectly fine with ignoring the narrow scope of any given case and establishing precedents that will fundamentally transform American society.
If the U.S Supreme Court upholds the challenge to Prop. 8 on merely technical grounds, same-sex couples in many states will still be denied the same rights enjoyed by straight couples. If, on the other hand, the court decides to take up the more fundamental questions at the heart of this issue, our country will only be better for it. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that establishes the constitutionality of same-sex marriage is needed to tackle this civil-rights issue of our day.