5 Aug 2010

California's ban on Same-Sex marriage illegal: US Court

In a decision delivered yesterday in the case of Perry et al v. Schwarzenegger et al, the Chief Judge of the United State District Court For the Northern District of California , Judge Vaughn R Walker has declared that the ban imposed under the law signed by the California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in November 2008 which provided that "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California" is illegal as it "fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license" and "does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples". Thus, according to the judge, as the law comes in the way of the State "fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis" it is unconstitutional.

In delivering the decision, the Court took note of the (a) evidence of sociologists, psychologists, epidemiologists and other experts who testified before it, (b) the moral, religious  and political arguments on the issue, (c) the law on the aspect of capacity to enter into marriage as prevailing in the United States and the State of California in particular, to make some very interesting finds of facts. Of these the notable ones are as under;
  • Marriage in the United States has always been a civil matter. Civil authorities may permit religious leaders to solemnize marriages but not to determine who may enter or leave a civil marriage. Religious leaders may determine independently whether to recognize a civil marriage or divorce but that recognition or lack thereof has no effect on the relationship under state law. [page 60]
  • California, like every other state, has never required that individuals entering a marriage be willing or able to procreate. [page 60]
  • Under coverture, a woman’s legal and economic identity was subsumed by her husband’s upon marriage. The husband was the legal head of household. Coverture is no longer part of the marital bargain. [page 62]
  • California has eliminated marital obligations based on the gender of the spouse. Regardless of their sex or gender, marital partners share the same obligations to one another and to their dependants. [page 66]
  • Eliminating gender and race restrictions in marriage has not deprived the institution of marriage of its vitality. [page 66]
  • Marriage is the state recognition and approval of a couple’s choice to live with each other, to remain committed to one another and to form a household based on their own feelings about one another and to join in an economic partnership and support one another and any dependents. [page 67]
  • Marriage benefits both spouses by promoting physical and psychological health. Married individuals are less likely to engage in behaviors detrimental to health, like smoking or drinking heavily. Married individuals live longer on average than unmarried individuals. [page 69]
The Court further noted that "Same-sex love and intimacy are well-documented in human history. The concept of an identity based on object desire; that is, whether an individual desires a relationship with someone of the opposite sex (heterosexual), same sex (homosexual) or either sex (bisexual), developed in the late nineteenth century" and that "Like opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples have happy, satisfying relationships and form deep emotional bonds and strong commitments to their partners. Standardized measures of relationship satisfaction, relationship adjustment and love do not differ depending on whether a couple is same-sex or opposite-sex " to hold that the State had "no interest in asking gays and lesbians to change their sexual orientation or in reducing the number of gays and lesbians in California." 

The Court, noting the physiological and behavioral aspects declared that "Marrying a person of the opposite sex is an unrealistic option for gay and lesbian individuals" and also that, "permitting same-sex couples to marry will not affect the number of opposite-sex couples who marry, divorce, cohabit, have children outside of marriage or otherwise affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages." The Court was also of the view that the impugned law "places the force of law behind stigmas against gays and lesbians, including: gays and lesbians do not have intimate relationships similar to heterosexual couples; gays and lesbians are not as good as heterosexuals; and gay and lesbian relationships do not deserve the full recognition of society."

In this background, the Court noted that the challenge to the law both under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America was sustainable in view of the finding that "unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation" as according to the Court those seeking registration of same-sex marriage "do not seek recognition of a new right. To characterize plaintiffs’ objective as 'the right to same-sex marriage' would suggest that plaintiffs seek something different from what opposite-sex couples across the state enjoy namely, marriage. Rather, plaintiffs ask California to recognize their relationships for what they are: marriages." The Court dismissed the objections of the State to justify the ban where it was argued by the State that (i) the ban is justified as it protects the traditional institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman; (ii) the State has to act with caution when implementing social change, (iii) its in the interest of the larger segment of the society to promote opposite-sex parenting of children than same-sex parenting, (iv) its the duty of the State to protect the freedom of those who oppose same-sex marriage, etc.

Have a look at the decision. Other links related to this case are available at this hyper-link.

No comments: