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9th Circuit Strikes Down Gay Marriage Ban

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - California's voter-approved ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, but it may remain in effect until the U.S. Supreme Court hears an eventual appeal, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday.

"Although the Constitution permits communities to enact most laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for a three-member panel. "There was no such reason that Proposition 8 could have been enacted."

Passed in November 2008, Proposition 8 defined marriage in the California Constitution as a union between a man and a woman, effectively ending the marital rights granted to same-sex couples by the California Supreme Court in June 2008.

Though former Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker struck Prop. 8 down as unconstitutional in August 2010, the ban has remained in place pending this appeal.

In addition to the arguments on the proposition's constitutionality, the federal appeals court also grappled with the propriety of its defense by the Sacramento-based group, which says it should have the right to appeal Walker's decision since lawmakers have refused.

This issue was sent up to the state Supreme Court, which ruled last November that the group could stand in for California.

The 9th Circuit upheld Walker's ruling on narrow grounds, finding Prop. 8 "stripped same-sex couples of the ability they previously possessed to obtain from the state ... the right to obtain and use the designation 'marriage' to describe their relationships. Nothing more, nothing less."

In its ruling, the panel rejected the argument from proponents that the state had an interest in protecting traditional marriage and procreation, which would be harmed by the legalization of gay marriage in California.

"All that Proposition 8 accomplished was to take away from same-sex couples the right to be granted marriage licenses and thus legally to use the designation of 'marriage,' which symbolize state legitimization and societal recognition of of their committed relationships,' Reinhardt wrote. "Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect 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."

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