Catholic leaders are disappointed but not surprised at a federal appeals court ruling Feb. 7 upholding U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision overturning Proposition 8, which voters passed in 2008 creating a constitutional amendment declaring that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

“We are disappointed by the ruling today by a panel of the Ninth Circuit that would invalidate the action taken by the people of California affirming that marriage unites a woman and a man and any children from their union,” said Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Wilkerson, president of the California Catholic Conference.

“However,” he continued in his Feb. 7 written statement, “given the issues involved and the nature of the legal process, it’s always been clear that his case would very likely be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Marriage between one man and one woman has been --- and always will be --- the most basic building block of the family and of our society.

“In the end, through sound legal reasoning, we believe the court will see this as well and uphold the will of the voters as expressed in Proposition 8. We continue to pray for that positive outcome.” 

In a statement issued late Feb. 7, Archbishop José Gomez said that the court’s decision “reflects a basic confusion about what marriage is and what marriage is for, and about why the government has an interest in promoting and strengthening marriage.

“This debate over marriage is not about equality or about the needs of individuals,” he said. “It is much bigger than that. It is about the nature of the human person and the nature of society.”

Marriage, “in every culture and every age,” has been recognized as the lifelong union of a man and woman for their own well-being and for the creation and nurturing of children, said Archbishop Gomez. 

“Our government has a vital interest in promoting marriage for two reasons,” he noted. “First, because marriage is the foundation of society. Second, because government has a duty to promote the well-being of children, who have the right to be born and raised in a family with both their mother and their father. 

“The government has no competence and no authority to ‘redefine’ marriage or ‘expand’ its definition to include other kinds of relationships. To do that is to say that marriage no longer exists. And this would have grave consequences for children and for the common good of our society.” 

As this case continues to make its way through in our court system, the archbishop concluded, “we will continue to pray for an ultimate outcome that supports and strengthens the true meaning of marriage.”

“The decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold Judge Walker’s radical decision overturning Prop. 8 comes as no surprise,” said Catholics for the Common Good President William B. May.

“We always knew this case would be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court,” said May. “Now that the Ninth Circuit has rendered its decision, the case can finally move to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it will be decided on sound legal arguments rather than the emotional appeals by those trying to obliterate the only institution that unites children with their moms and dads.” 

According to Proposition 8 Legal Defense General Counsel Andy Pugno, the Ninth Circuit’s Feb. 7 decision “is completely out of step with every other federal appellate and Supreme Court decision in American history on the subject of marriage.” 

Pugno said the coalition, the official proponents of Proposition 8, would immediately appeal “this misguided decision that disregards the will of more than 7 million Californians who voted to restore marriage as the unique union of only a man and woman.” 

Douglas NeJaime, an associate professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, commented in a Feb. 7 statement that the Ninth Court’s 2-1 ruling that Proposition 8 violates the federal Constitution was decided “in the most narrow fashion available” with Judge Reinhardt basing his holding on the unique situation in California.

In California, NeJaime explained, the state maintains an entirely separate system for same-sex couples (domestic partnership) and provides all the same state-law rights and benefits of marriage through that system. In addition, unlike in other states, same-sex couples enjoyed the right to marry in California and had that right withdrawn by Proposition 8. Based on these unique facts, the court concluded that Proposition 8 fails to meet even the lowest level of scrutiny under the federal Equal Protection Clause.

“By ruling in a narrow fashion and basing its holding on the reasoning of Romer v. Evans (the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down Colorado’s Amendment 2, which withdrew and prohibited antidiscrimination protections for lesbians and gay men), the Ninth Circuit decided the case in a way that would allow the Supreme Court to affirm without having to significantly expand on its existing jurisprudence and without having to rule on marriage for same-sex couples on a national scale,” said NeJaime.

“In effect, the Ninth Circuit’s decision allows the Supreme Court to continue the incremental, case-by-case trajectory of marriage for same-sex couples in the United States,” NeJaime said. He told The Tidings in a follow-up phone interview that there is a possibility that the Supreme Court could deny reviewing the case because it is so limited to California.

“If the Supreme Court does take the case, it could affirm the decision by issuing a narrow ruling that California’s system is unconstitutional without saying anything about laws in other states,” said NeJaime. “That’s the kind of opinion the court likes to take on these hot button issues.” 

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