U.S. Supreme Court Restores Marriage Equality in California

July 11, 2013

On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an historic decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry, which finally put an end to the discrimination that was enshrined into the California Constitution by Proposition 8 and enabled same-sex marriages to resume in California. 

In an opinion authored by Chief Justice Roberts, the Supreme Court held that the Proponents of Proposition 8 lacked standing to appeal the federal district court’s August 2010 ruling striking down the law because they "had no ‘direct stake’ in the outcome of their appeal" and had suffered no harm as a result of the district court’s decision enjoining Proposition 8.  The Court’s decision reinstated the district court’s injunction, which took effect two days later allowing the Plaintiffs–along with hundreds of other California couples–to marry on June 28.  Although the Court’s decision on standing grounds did not reach the merits of the Plaintiffs’ constitutional challenge to Proposition 8, the majority opinion of Justice Anthony Kennedy striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in Windsor v. United States (which was released the same day) adopted the Perry Plaintiffs’ arguments, holding that DOMA robs gays and lesbians of their dignity and "humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by [same-sex couples]." 

Proposition 8 was enacted in November 2008 in response to the California Supreme Court’s May 2008 ruling that prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying violated the due process and equal protection guarantees of the California Constitution.  Proposition 8 amended the California Constitution to state that "[o]nly marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."  As a direct result of Proposition 8, gay and lesbian Californians were deprived of the right to marry solely because their prospective spouses were of the same sex.  Because Proposition 8 denied their family relationships the same dignity and respect afforded to opposite-sex couples and their families, the Plaintiffs filed suit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8 under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.  This groundbreaking lawsuit was the first federal challenge to a State’s same-sex marriage ban.

Following a three-week trial in the Northern District of California that garnered widespread attention, now-retired Chief Judge Vaughn Walker struck down Proposition 8 in a landmark decision, finding that "plaintiffs have demonstrated by overwhelming evidence that Proposition 8 violates their due process and equal protection rights."  The court explained that Proposition 8 "does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples," and directed that enforcement of Proposition 8 be enjoined.  The district court’s decision was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit, which held that "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.  The Constitution simply does not allow for laws of this sort."

The Supreme Court’s decision achieves a complete victory in the hard-fought battle for marriage equality in California, and marks a significant step in the continuing march towards nationwide marriage equality.  The New York Times called the Supreme Court’s ruling a "huge and gratifying victory in the long struggle to end government-sanctioned discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans" that will "propel[] the nation toward greater fairness and full equality."  Today, a majority of Americans favor marriage equality; hundreds of major corporations and employers, as well as more than 100 prominent Republicans, filed briefs as amici curiae in support of marriage equality in the Supreme Court; and 13 States and the District of Columbia–encompassing 30% of the U.S. population–now allow same-sex couples to marry.  As the Washington Post observed, "It is . . . difficult now to remember how controversial it was when Theodore Olson and David Boies . . . teamed up to challenge the California constitutional amendment."

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Theodore B. Olson, Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., Christopher D. Dusseault, Matthew D. McGill, Theane Evangelis, Amir C. Tayrani, Enrique A. Monagas, and Joshua S. Lipshutz briefed the case on behalf of the Plaintiffs.  Theodore B. Olson argued the case in the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2013.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s lawyers are available to assist in addressing any questions you may have about this development.  Please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work or the following lawyers:

Theodore B. Olson – Washington, D.C. (202-955-8500, [email protected])
Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr. Los Angeles (213-229-7000, [email protected])
Christopher D. Dusseault – Los Angeles (213-229-7855, [email protected])
Matthew D. McGill – Washington, D.C. (202-887-3680, [email protected])
Theane EvangelisLos Angeles (213-229-7726, [email protected])
Amir C. Tayrani – Washington, D.C. (202-887-3692, [email protected])
Enrique A. Monagas – San Francisco (415-393-8353, [email protected])
Joshua S. Lipshutz – San Francisco (415-393-8233, [email protected])

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