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Prop 8 ruled unconstitutional, affect on Ohio uncertain

Courtesy of MCT

A federal appeals panel ruled last week that California’s same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8, is unconstitutional, putting the law on track for U.S. Supreme Court consideration.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision that a lower court judge correctly interpreted the U.S. Constitution when he declared in 2010 that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.

“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,” wrote Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt. “The Constitution simply does not allow for laws of this sort.”

Lawrence Baum, a political science professor at Ohio State, called the decision narrow. The wording of the decision was “absolutely deliberate,” he said.

Rather than take on the broader issue of whether the Constitution protects same-sex marriage, the ruling focused on how Proposition 8 took away a right previously held by citizens of California.

“By using their initiative power to target a minority group and withdraw a right that it possessed, without a legitimate reason for doing so, the People of California violated the Equal Protection Clause (of the 14th Amendment),” Reinhardt wrote.

Proposition 8 was held unconstitutional on those grounds, Reinhardt wrote.

“Now, the court was not saying it would be OK in other situations,” Baum said.

Instead, the court’s decision relied on the very specific situation of California, where a law removed a previously-held right.

Andrew Gammill, a second-year in law and leader of the OutLaws, a Moritz College of Law student organization that deals with the legal issues in gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, called the decision “inspiring” for what it does for the gay community, but he didn’t like the decision’s narrow nature.

“I think it would have been more clear and more inspiring of a decision if it had taken on the broader issue,” Gammill said.

As the decision was made by a 3-judge panel, the next step in the court process is two-fold. Proponents of Proposition 8 can either ask a larger panel of judges to review the case or appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It’s a step that could delay the case getting to the Supreme Court by a lot of time,” Baum said. “My guess is that they’ll go to the Supreme Court.”

It’s uncertain how the case will affect Ohio for now. Since the appeal was decided so narrowly, the ruling only affects situations such as California’s, where a previously-held right is taken away. The Supreme Court can choose to take the case either narrowly, as the 9th Circuit Court did, or broadly to decide on gay marriage as a right.

The issue of same-sex marriage has been a heated one across the United States. Thus far, only seven states have legalized the act.

Washington became the seventh state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage on Monday when governor Christine Gregoire signed a law that legalizes same-sex marriage and converts most domestic partnerships.

“We did what was just, and we did what was fair. We stood up for equality and we did it together – Republicans and Democrats, gay and straight, young and old, and a variety of religious faiths,” Gregoire said in a release. “I’m proud of who and what we are in this state.”

The law will take effect on June 7, 2012 unless opponents collect enough signatures to take it to a state-wide voter referendum.

The Ohio Constitution defines marriage as “a marriage between one man and one woman.” The definition was amended into the Ohio Constitution in 2004. Because Ohio has never allowed same-sex marriage, its legal status in the state would be unchanged even if the Supreme Court agreed with the 9th Circuit’s decision, unless it rules on the issue broadly.

Baum said he could see the justices going either way — narrow or broad — but “the fact that the 9th Circuit decided narrowly makes it likely the Supreme Court will do the same.”

Gammill said he hopes for more certainty from a Supreme Court decision.

Diego Robledo, a third-year in engineering, said he hopes the Supreme Court allows same sex marriage and that he disagrees with Ohio having a constitutional definition of marriage.

“I don’t think there should be a law that defines marriage,” Robledo said.

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