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California Proposition 8 unconstitutional, appeals court rules

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(AP, ABC7) - A federal appeals court has declared California's same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional, paving the way for a likely U.S. Supreme Court showdown on the voter-approved law.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled 2-1 Tuesday that a lower court judge interpreted the U.S. Constitution correctly in 2010 when he declared the ban, known as Proposition 8, to be a violation of the civil rights of gays and lesbians.

"This is an important step,” says Ted Olson, the lead co-counsel. “We are not at the end of the line yet."

The measure, which passed with 52 percent of the vote in 2008, outlawed same-sex unions just five months after they became legal in the state.

Lawyers for Proposition 8 sponsors and for two couples who sued to overturn the ban have said they would appeal to the Supreme Court if they did not receive a favorable ruling from the 9th Circuit.

In a statement they said: “We will immediately appeal this misguided decision that disregards the will of more than seven million Californians who voted to restore marriage as the unique union of only a man and woman.”

And republican candidate Newt Gingrich tweeted his disapproval, saying it’s "another example of an out of control judiciary."

The three-judge panel wrote:  "Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples," states the opinion written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, one of the court's most liberal judges.

However, the appeals panel took pains to note that its decision applies only to California, even though the court has jurisdiction in nine western states.

California is the only one of those states where the ability for gays to marry was granted then rescinded, the court noted in its narrowly crafted opinion.

"Whether under the Constitution same-sex couples may ever be denied the right to marry, a right that has long been enjoyed by opposite-sex couples, is an important and highly controversial question," the court said. "We need not and do not answer the broader question in this case."

The ruling will not take effect until the deadline passes for Proposition 8's backers to appeal to a larger panel of the 9th Circuit.

 

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