This case is about marriage, “the most important relation in life,” Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374, 384 (1978), and equality, the most bedrock principle of the American dream, from the Declaration of Independence, to the Gettysburg Address, to the Fourteenth Amendment.
Fourteen times the Supreme Court has stated that marriage is a fundamental right of all individuals. This case tests the proposition whether the gay and lesbian Americans among us should be counted as “persons” under the Fourteenth Amendment, or whether they constitute a permanent underclass ineligible for protection under that cornerstone of our Constitution.
The unmistakable, undeniable purpose and effect of Proposition 8 is to select gay men and lesbians—and them alone—and enshrine in California’s Constitution that they are different, that their loving and committed relationships are ineligible for the designation “marriage,” and that they are unworthy of that “most important relation in life.” After an expensive, demeaning campaign in which voters were constantly warned to vote “Yes on 8” to “protect our children”—principally from the notion that gay men and lesbians were persons entitled to equal dignity and respect—Proposition 8 passed with a 52% majority and Proponents’ stigmatization of gay and lesbian relationships as distinctly second-class thus became the official constitutional position of the State of California.
Class-based balkanization and stigmatization of our citizens is flatly incompatible with our constitutional ideals. “[T]he Constitution ‘neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.’” Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620, 623 (1996) (quoting Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 559 (1896) (Harlan, J., dissenting)). The tragic time has long-passed when our government could target our gay and lesbian citizens for discriminatory, disfavored treatment—even imprisonment—because those in power deemed gay relationships deviant, immoral, or distasteful. Proponents’ own expert acknowledged that the principle of “equal human dignity must apply to gay and lesbian persons.” SER 287. “In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.” Plessy, 163 U.S. at 559 (Harlan, J., dissenting).
Thus, the Constitution now fully embraces the truth that, no less than heterosexual persons, “[p]ersons in a homosexual relationship” enjoy the “constitutional protection to personal decisions relating to marriage.” Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 574 (2003). The district court readily and correctly recognized that Proposition 8 and its demeaning of the personal autonomy of gay men and lesbians with respect to marriage was of a piece with the anti-miscegenation statutes struck down years ago in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967). And just as the Supreme Court properly vindicated those foundational principles of freedom and equality in Loving, so, too, does the decision of the district court invalidating Proposition 8 make this nation, in the words of Proponents’ expert, “more American . . . than we were on the day before.” SER 287.
From the very first sentence of their opening brief, Proponents make clear that their case hinges upon application of a version of rational basis review that a court might apply to everyday economic legislation. Under this type of rational basis review, Proponents contend, a state may “draw a line around” its gay and lesbian citizens and exclude them from the entire panoply of state benefits, services, and privileges so long as one can imagine a conceivable set of facts that would justify providing those benefits to heterosexual persons.
Application of Proponents’ version of rational basis review to Proposition 8 would be profoundly unjust and absolutely incompatible with our Nation’s tradition of equality as articulated in numerous decisions of the Supreme Court. Categorical exclusions from “the most important relation in life” cannot possibly be equated with zoning or economic regulations that adjust in nice gradations the economic benefits and burdens of life in American society. And a person’s sexual orientation is not a species of conduct that may readily be adjusted to conform to the government’s changing priorities; the court below, based on ample expert analysis, found that a gay man or lesbian cannot simply choose to be attracted to the opposite sex and thereby avoid the sting of Proposition 8, to say nothing of the other acts of discrimination and violence frequently directed at gay and lesbian persons. Heightened scrutiny thus properly applies to laws targeting persons based on their sexual orientation and gender, just as it does to laws classifying persons on the basis of race, ancestry, sex, illegitimacy, alienage, and religion.
Even under Proponents’ preferred standard of review, however, Proposition 8 fails. There is no legitimate interest that is even remotely furthered by Proposition 8’s arbitrary exclusion of gay men and lesbians from the institution of marriage. Indeed, Proponents can offer nothing but unproven assertions and tautologies.
Proponents argue that stripping gay men and lesbians of their right to marry advances governmental interests in “responsible procreation” and preventing the “deinstitutionalization” of marriage—two phrases that, tellingly, the Yes on 8 campaign never saw fit to urge upon California voters. To determine whether these rationales and others proffered from time to time by Proponents legitimately could justify Proposition 8, the district court held a trial at which it considered evidence and expert testimony. Plaintiffs presented 17 witnesses, including nine leading experts in history, political science, psychology, and economics, and hundreds of trial exhibits, including more than 250 exhibits related to messages transmitted to voters as part of the Proposition 8 campaign.
Proponents, on the other hand, denounced from the start the notion that their assertions might be subjected to adversarial testing, resisting the very idea of a trial, and ultimately insisted their assertions did not need to be supported by any evidence whatsoever. In the end, they presented just two witnesses, including a supposed expert on marriage who derived the substance of his opinions concerning the harms same-sex marriage might cause to “traditional” marriage from a “thought experiment” in which he essentially did little more than chronicle the responses provided by an unscientifically selected audience. ER 81. When asked by the district court to identify what harms would befall opposite-sex married couples if gay and lesbian couples could marry, Proponents’ counsel candidly acknowledged, “I don’t know.” ER 44.
Based on that factual record—undoubtedly the most detailed ever assembled in a case challenging legislation targeting gay and lesbian persons—the district court issued a 136-page opinion that meticulously examined each of the parties’ factual assertions and the evidence supporting those assertions. The district court found that “Proponents’ evidentiary presentation was dwarfed by that of plaintiffs,” and concluded that Proponents “failed to build a credible factual record to support their claim that Proposition 8 served a legitimate government interest.” ER 46. In light of Proponents’ inability to identify a single legitimate interest furthered by Proposition 8, the court concluded that, under any standard, Proposition 8 violated both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.
Proponents and their amici now attempt to fill the evidentiary void they left in the district court with an avalanche of non-record citations, distortions and misstatements regarding the proceedings below, and baseless attacks on the good faith of the district court. The tactic is unfortunate, unbecoming and unavailing. The governmental interests Proponents assert have been affirmatively disavowed by California, or have no basis in reality, or both. The fact is, as the testimony of 19 witnesses and 900 trial exhibits introduced into evidence amply demonstrates, there is no good reason—indeed, not even a rational basis—for California to exclude gay men and lesbians from the institution of civil marriage, the most important relation in life.
The district court’s judgment is predicated squarely on the fundamental principles established by the Supreme Court in Loving and its other decisions explaining the constitutional meaning of marriage, as well the Court’s decisions in Lawrence and Romer, which together make clear that Proposition 8 flatly violates the constitutional commands of due process and equal protection of the laws. That judgment—and the injunction against the enforcement of Proposition 8 that necessarily must follow—should be affirmed.