LDVUSA: California’s Proposition 8 overturned

America’s gay rights activists were celebrating last night as a judge re-legalised gay marriage, making the latest step in the long-running battle in the US and the state of California.

Previously, legal gay marriage had been granted to Californians following successful legal challenge on discrimination grounds of the rules that meant marriage was only available to heterosexual couples.

Only after thousands of gay Californians had tied the knot did anti-gay activists manage to get a proposition on the ballot paper last to ask voters whether gay marriage should be disallowed.  By a narrow margin, Californians voted to end homogamy in their state – leaving a pool of thousands of married gay Californians in limbo as no new couples were allowed to register a marriage.

Last night’s court ruling from gay US District Judge Vaughn Walker overturned the wishes of seven million voters to return to the status ante quo, and now gays can marry again.  Gay activists see the decision as a ruling for common sense, saying minority rights should never have been the subject of a ballot of the majority.

Campaigners are painfully aware the issue will continue on its path through the American legal system. Both sides of the debate anticipate a hearing in front of the Supreme Court, with some raising the spectre of a “Roe v Wade” style legal precedent that ties the hands of all American states, including many where social opinion is hugely against further progress in gay rights, as well as small minority of states where gay marriage is legal and relatively uncontroversial.

Campaigners against gay marriage, backed financially by the Catholic and Morman churches, both of whom raised significant sums of money to contribute to the legal challenge and the keenly contested ballot in the first place, are already crying foul. They allege the gay judge who ruled was predisposed to do so and was against them from the start. But are they simply covering up for the very poor quality of evidence their legal team was able to submit? None of their academic witnesses was able to point to any evidence that gay marriage led to social harm and one of their key social witnesses against homosexuality in principle was later involved in a scandal related to taking a male prostitute on holiday with him “to carry his bags.”

Still, the ruling makes one thing clear. The graph above, borrowed from fivethirtyeight.com, shows numbers of people in the world living in jurisdictions where full gay marriage, not just civil unions, is available. The 2008  spike in the graph represents California legalising gay marriage then banning it again – the only place anywhere in the world so far to grant the right from same-sex couples only to remove it again.  Yesterday’s ruling adds another 40million or so people back into the area under the graph.

Proposition 8, previously on LDV: