Friday, August 6, 2010

Gay marriage: O learned judge

August 5, 2010

As rulings go, Judge Vaughn Walker’s verdict on August 4th in San Francisco was relentless. The state of California, he wrote, cannot ban, even by popular vote, gays and lesbians from marrying because this would violate America’s constitution by denying some couples “a fundamental right without a legitimate (much less compelling) reason.” His decision is certain to be appealed, and most watchers think it will end up before the Supreme Court. But whatever happens there, it represents a huge leap forward in America’s long struggle over the civil rights of homosexuals.

The background to the case is Proposition 8, a Californian voter initiative that banned same-sex marriage and was approved by 52% of voters in November 2008, after a nasty and expensive campaign that often turned blatantly homophobic. Two couples, one lesbian and one gay, went to court, insisting that this ban violated their constitutional rights to “due process” and “equal protection”. Arguing their case were two of America’s best-known lawyers, one conservative and one liberal, who, in a nice accident of history, had stood on opposite sides in 2000 when Al Gore fought George Bush for the presidency but who now made common cause.