SALT LAKE CITY — Although a federal judge on Wednesday overturned a ban on same-sex marriage in California, it's apt to be at least a couple of years before anything really changes as the case continues to wind its way through the appeals process.
The ruling by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker striking down Proposition 8's amendment to the California Constitution banning same-sex marriage was expected, but "it's not clear what the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court might decide," said Clifford Rosky, a University of Utah law professor and board member for Equality Utah.
Immediately after he issued the ruling that found the voter-prompted ban unconstitutional, Walker stayed his decision until at least Friday. He said he will decide then whether to issue a longer stay.
Prior to the judge's ruling, both sides had vowed that if they lost they would appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the last step before the U.S. Supreme Court. Experts said it's likely the 9th Circuit or Walker will extend the stay through the appeal, which would continue the ban on same-sex marriage for its duration.
Reaction to Walker's ruling was swift and reflected how divided America is on same-sex marriage.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement saying it "regrets today's decision."
"California voters have twice been given the opportunity to vote on the definition of marriage in their state and both times have determined that marriage should be recognized as only between a man and a woman," spokesman Michael Purdy said. "We agree. Marriage between a man and woman is the bedrock of society.
"We recognize that this decision represents only the opening of a vigorous debate in the courts over the rights of the people to define and protect this most fundamental institution — marriage.
"There is no doubt that today's ruling will add to the marriage debate in this country, and we urge people on all sides of this issue to act in a spirit of mutual respect and civility toward those with a different opinion."
The LDS Church did not make a direct contribution to ProtectMarriage.com, the Prop. 8 campaign. But it did send a letter to each LDS congregation in California asking Mormons to give time and money to support it. A church spokesman told media that the church estimated the value of its non-monetary, in-kind contributions at $189,900 — less than 1 percent of the total funds donated to the "Yes on 8" campaign, which raised $40 million.
In a statement issued from Washington, D.C., Cardinal Francis George of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also criticized the ruling.
"Marriage between a man and a woman is the bedrock of any society," he said. "The misuse of law to change the nature of marriage undermines the common good. It is tragic that a federal judge would overturn the clear and expressed will of the people in their support for the institution of marriage. No court of civil law has the authority to reach into areas of human experience that nature itself has defined."
Jubilation reigned in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community, as several hundred opponents of Proposition 8 rallied at the Utah Capitol Wednesday night to celebrate the ruling. Some carried American flags, and others wrapped themselves in rainbow-colored Pride flags.
"It's a nicer flag than usual," said Jim Grady, pointing to the Stars and Stripes. "It's about time it's all of our flag again."
Tanya Lookadoo was there with her toddler because her older son, Justin Peterson, is gay. "I don't think people get it unless they have a child who is gay," she said. "They deserve a life like every other human being on this planet."
"This is one of the most important rulings for a minority that has ever come down," said Eric Ethington of Prideinutah.com, which organized the rally. "Prop. 8 was the first time rights have been taken from a minority." He said it means "that a federal judge said that anything anybody in this country has the right to do, everybody has the right to do."
After hearing a few speakers, the ralliers marched down State Street and circled the LDS Temple without incident.
Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch blasted the court ruling. "Two years ago, Californians voted to uphold traditional marriage. Today, one federal judge trumped 7 million voters by making up a right that is not in the Constitution. This is what happens when judges make up the Constitution as they go along, when judges rather than the Constitution are the supreme law of the land.
"A judge who is a good student of the law makes all the difference and determines whether the people — and not unelected judges — will be allowed to decide these important cultural and political issues for themselves."
"It's a bad ruling," said William Duncan, director of the Marriage Law Foundation, who said it was expected but disappointing, "particularly the way the judge justified his ruling." Duncan said Walker indicated that passage by the voters showed heterosexuals felt like they were "better than" same-sex couples.
"It's hard to imagine that 7 million voters acted out of spite," he said.
Andy Pugno, general counsel for ProtectMarriage.com, echoed the sentiment. "It is disturbing that the trial court, in order to strike down Prop. 8, has literally accused the majority of California voters of having ill and discriminatory intent when casting their votes for Prop. 8," he said in a statement. "But the reality is that Prop. 8 was simply about restoring and strengthening the traditional definition of marriage as a unique relationship of a man and a woman, for the benefit of children, families and society.
"We are confident that the trial court record we built will help us ultimately prevail on appeal and reverse today's ruling," he said.
Valerie Larabee, executive director of the Utah Pride Center, said she was most happy for the families directly involved in the case. "It was a very brave thing of them to take their lives into such a public forum, to fight for what they believe is their constitutional right. As a result of that, I think that many conversations have been had all over this country, and I think hearts and minds have been changed."
"With a stroke of his pen, Judge Walker has overruled the votes and values of 7 million Californians who voted for marriage as one man and one woman," said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage. "This ruling, if allowed to stand, threatens not only Prop. 8 in California but the laws in 45 other states that define marriage as one man and one woman."
A decision on the appeal could be years away.
Rosky said the consensus in the legal community is that if the 9th Circuit Court agrees with Walker, the Supreme Court is much more likely to hear and decide the case than if he's overturned. That's because the 9th Circuit ruling would conflict with a decision by the 8th Circuit that several years ago found same-sex couples have no constitutional right to marry.
A decision by the Supreme Court would apply to all the states.
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