A three-member panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has just ruled that California's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. The federal court said the state cannot prevent gay couples from marrying just because a majority of voters said so. The 2-1 decision is a huge victory for gay-rights advocates. The ruling comes just as Washington is poised to become the seventh state in the union to allow same-sex marriage.
"Although the constitution permits communities to enact most laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently," the ruling states.
"There was no such reason that Proposition 8 could have been enacted."
The ruling is limited to California, which allowed gay marriage but then passed Proposition 8 in 2008. The initiative was approved with 52.5 percent of the vote. However, the measure was ruled unconstitutional by federal judge Vaughn Walker in 2010. But the ban has remained in place since then, because the 9th Circuit court has put a stay on the Walker ruling pending appeals.
Today's decision, however, does not end the legal fight over gay marriage in the Golden State, as those who supported the ban still have the chance to appeal the ruling to the full 9th Circuit or take it straight to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In an historic vote Feb. 1, the Washington State Senate passed the bill to legalize same-sex marriage by a 28-21 margin. The measure now heads to the House, which is expected to approve it by a comfortable margin. Gov. Chris Gregoire came out in support of gay marriage last month after a long "personal journey," and says she will sign the bill into law.
Opponents have promised to challenge it at the ballot with a referendum.