This afternoon, the full 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declined to hear an appeal of the Prop 8 case. In February, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit struck down Prop 8, finding California’s revocation of the right of same-sex couples to marry same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional. The 9th Circuit’s decision means that either the Supreme Court will take up the case or the 9th Circuit’s decision striking down the law will stand.
The appeals court ruling is on narrow grounds unique to California, where same-sex couples were left with all the state rights of marriage but not the name. It found that taking away gay and lesbian couples’ designation of “marriage” while leaving their rights unchanged did not serve any of the purposes put forth by its defenders. Instead, its only purpose and effect was to lessen a targeted group’s status and dignity by reclassifying their relationship and families as inferior. The Court did not address the larger question of whether gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry. While the Supreme Court will be presented with the narrower question as framed by the Ninth Circuit, it is impossible to tell, if it agrees to hear the case at all, whether they will rule on this principle or more broadly on the ability of states to deny lesbians and gays the right to marry.