Below are the reflections of Orelia Busch, outgoing Legislative Assistant for Women’s Issues / UUWF Clara Barton Intern, on the Proposition 8 court decision. You can also read UUA President Rev. Peter Morales’ statement on the ruling at UUA.org.
Judge Vaughn Walker’s opinion in the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, released on Wednesday, August 4, was a resounding victory for supporters of same sex marriage. I can honestly say that I was surprised. In the 24 hours between the announcement that the ruling would be handed down and its actual release, both sides were preparing their appeals, and it seemed like no one could even speculate on what the judge would say.
The initial reports of the ruling seemed strong – the judge ruled that Proposition 8 violated both the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment. As the evening progressed, I learned exactly how strong this ruling is and celebrated with activists and friends. I’m about halfway through all 138 pages of the ruling, and it’s compelling reading!
Based on the evidence presented in this case, the judge’s elegant conclusion upholds the right to marry a person of one’s choosing as fundamental to life and liberty. These rights are our birthright not only as citizens of the United States, but also as members of one human family.
I am grateful that the judge in this case sees Prop 8 as discriminating on the basis of gender as well as sexual orientation. By describing marriage as a “union of equals”, he has recognized the inherent equality of two spouses of ANY gender and dealt a blow to state sanctioned sexism as well as heterosexism. Judge Walker ruled it unequivocally unconstitutional for the State of California or its voters to ensconce a “private moral view” about marriage in law with Proposition 8. He further explained that:
The evidence shows that the movement of marriage away from a gendered institution and toward an institution free from state mandated gender roles reflects an evolution in the understanding of gender rather than a change in marriage. The evidence did not show any historical purpose for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, as states have never required spouses to have an ability or willingness to procreate in order to marry. Rather, the exclusion exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage. That time has passed…. Race and gender restrictions shaped marriage during eras of race and gender inequality, but such restrictions were never part of the historical core of the institution of marriage. Today, gender is not relevant to the state in determining spouses obligations to each other and to their dependents.
This ruling is not just about same sex marriage, it’s about marriage. Period. The court recognizes that same sex and opposite sex marriages are equal in the same way that heterosexual marriages are equally valid and recognized whether or not a couple has children. Furthermore, the plaintiffs presented ample evidence – available from over 20 years of scholarly research – that the quality and stability of a relationship, parenting skills and child outcomes are not related to the gender of the spouses. I truly hope that these findings will help end institutionalized sexism and heterosexism in this country. As activists, advocates and allies, however, we still have a lot of work ahead of us. I hope we keep building bridges between lives and communities and movements as we do it.