Unitarian Universalists in California, and across the nation, cheered the ruling made by a federal judge on Wednesday, August 4, striking down Proposition 8, a voter-approved referendum outlawing same-sex marriage in California. Vaughn R. Walker, the chief judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, who made the decision, immediately put a temporary stay on the ruling pending appeal from supporters of Proposition 8. That appeal was filed later the same day. It is widely believed that the case will ultimately be brought before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Same-sex marriage was approved by the California Supreme Court in May 2008 and took effect June 16, 2008. Even before the Supreme Court’s ruling, opponents had collected enough signatures to place an amendment to the California Constitution, called Proposition 8, which would limit marriage to one man and one woman, on the ballot. The amendment passed with 52 percent of the vote on November 4, 2008. Immediately after Proposition 8’s passage, three lawsuits were filed challenging the amendment’s validity. Walker’s ruling is in response to one of these, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, filed in May 2009 on behalf of two gay couples.
Eric Isaacson, a member of First UU Church of San Diego and a lawyer, authored an amicus curiae brief supporting the plaintiffs in the case. The brief, initiated by the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of California and California Faith for Equality, included the California Council of Churches, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis, and the Progressive Jewish Alliance among its signers. At the conclusion of the 15-page brief, Isaacson wrote, “Proposition 8 amounts to an unconstitutional codification of hostility toward, and sectarian doctrine concerning, homosexuality and homosexuals. It should be stricken.”
Isaacson said that while he was happy with Walker’s decision he wasn’t surprised. “As the case unfolded it was apparent that Judge Walker was going to have a full trial and develop a full evidentiary record,” he said. “As that record developed, you could see that the proponents of Prop 8 didn’t have much of a case. There was considerable reason for optimism that he was going to strike Prop 8 down.”
According to Walker’s ruling, “Proposition 8 was premised on the belief that same-sex couples simply are not as good as opposite-sex couples. Whether that belief is based on moral disapproval of homosexuality, animus towards gays and lesbians, or simply a belief that a relationship between a man and a woman is inherently better than a relationship between two men or two women, this belief is not a proper basis on which to legislate.”
UUA President Peter Morales issued a statement on Wednesday, August 4, praising the decision. “The ruling today by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker declaring California’s Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional is a victory for same-sex couples, their families, and all Americans who believe in equal rights,” he wrote.
The UUA has supported same-sex religious marriages since the 1970s when they were called civil unions. In 1984 it passed a resolution supporting clergy peforming services of union for gay and lesbian couples and in 1996 issued a resolution calling for the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.
The Rev. Lindi Ramsden, executive director of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of California, the initiator of the amicus curiae brief, cheered the ruling. “Proposition 8 was a wound to California, to our constitution, and to the dignity of its people and families,” she said. “I am thrilled with the content of Judge Walker's ruling. His findings of fact are powerful and profound.”
Ramsden said that the fight for marriage equality in California was by no means over. UULMCA has developed a program, “ReEngage,” through which congregations can become designated as Marriage Equality congregations, much like the Green Sanctuary program originated by the UU Ministry for Earth. The program will help congregations re-engage with the issue of marriage equality and will provide them with a framework for organizing.
“This is a pivotal moment,” Ramsden said. “The path to the Supreme Court is, unfortunately, still a very uncertain one. We still need to win the hearts and minds of those who have been damaged by homophobia. We need a strong majority support for equality both to win at the polls and to secure the kind of welcoming community that will respect and support all families.”
- Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry California.Statewide justice ministry promoting UU values in the public arena.
From the Archives
Correction 8.9.10: In an earlier version of this story we did not mention the work that the UUA had done in the 1970s promoting civil unions and the resolution passed in 1984 supporting clergy performing same-sex unions.