San Francisco’s 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional on Tuesday, marking the latest turn in what has been a nearly a decade-long effort by state activists to make same-marriage legal in the state.
In 2008, California became the nation’s second state to make same-sex marriage legal, four years after San Francisco began recognizing same sex marriages at the request of mayor Gavin Newsom. While gay rights leaders rejoiced at the decision, and LGBT Americans from around the nation flocked to the state to get married, the decision stirred controversy among conservatives inside and outside of California.
But the victory for LGBT rights was short lived. Later that year, on election day of 2008, California voters helped to overturn the decision. With 52% of the state’s voters favoring Proposition 8 – a measure restricting legal marriages to those performed between a woman and a man – the legislation took effect the next day: while same sex marriages were not to be retroactively annulled, the law put a halt the continued recognition of new marriages.
While maintaining a reputation for being a state sympathetic toward liberal causes, California is politically divided between progressives residing in coastal areas including San Francisco and conservative strongholds located inland as well as in Orange County. Votes in support of and against Proposition 8 largely mirrored this geographical fracture.
It remains to be seen what might happen if the case reaches the US Supreme Court, the next and final court to which those in disagreement with today’s decision may appeal if they are denied a rehearing.
But the 9th Circuit’s decision comes at a time when the gay rights movement has been picking up steam. Last September, a repeal of the US military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy — former President Clinton’s 1993 compromise with social conservatives – went into effect. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has highlighted the issue of gay rights in foreign countries. And since California first granted same sex marriage rights in 2008, four more states as well as the District of Columbia have followed suit.