Take That, Prop 8

California could set a precedent for other states that don't yet have gay marriage laws

Yesterday, California’s ban on same-sex marriage – known as Proposition 8 – was declared unconstitutional by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court, moving the issue one step closer to the Supreme Court. And for same-sex couples in the state – and around the country – this is fantastic news.

Photo by Think Stock

Not only does the ruling echo what LGBT advocates have been saying all along – that the state’s ban is unconstitutional and that it’s wrong to “lessen the status and human dignity” of gay people, it also gives fuel to the idea that those who say voters should decide the fate of a civil rights issue is dangerous, especially since California approved Prop 8 in 2008 by a very narrow margin (52 percent).

Such civil rights issues are usually decided on a federal level – such as the case of women’s right to vote. When states like New Jersey attempted to will it to voters (all male voters, at the time) it, too, was struck down – only to be affirmed years later on a federal level.

Advocates are asking for the same of marriage equality.

That the justices decided that the law has no other purpose but to discriminate is a significant message to send throughout California and beyond.

So what does it really mean?

The LGBT community and the gay marriage debate has entered new territory as of yesterday. This is the first time a federal appeals court has repealed a state’s decision to outlaw same-sex marriage and it could usher in similar measures elsewhere.

There are currently nine states that have a civil union law – and they include Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island. Currently, New Jersey is debating whether it should allow voters to decide the fate of gay marriage. But this Prop 8 decision could change all of that if this latest dissent can be shown as precedent. And the dissent is strongly worded:

“All parties agree that Proposition 8 had one effect only. It stripped same-sex couples of the ability they previously possessed to obtain from the State, or any other authorized party, an important right – the right to obtain and use the designation of  “marriage” to describe their relationships. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Could this make history? Definitely. And for same-sex couples in California, it already has.