Many people have heard of the most recent decision of the 9th Circuit Court of appeals in Perry v. Brown. This is the case that challenged the California law that bans same-sex marriage. Proposition 8 was passed in a general election where a majority of the voters of California enacted the legislation banning same-sex marriage. Legal challenges were quick, and the 9th Circuit’s opinion was the latest in the same-sex marriage debate.
To understand the decision from a legal perspective, it is important to understand the legal distinction that same-sex couples are not recognized as a “protected class” within the definition of America’s equal protection laws. Certain classifications of persons fall into legal protected classes under our laws. This is typically understood as gender, race, color, and age. The tests applied to these classes are different than that which applies to the people as a whole. Same-sex individuals have not been established as a protected class, so laws that infringe on their rights have a test called the “rational basis” test that is applied when they challenge a law that infringes upon their rights as same-sex individuals. There is a strong burden applied that the law being challenged is valid under this test.
In the Perry case, the attorneys understood this and sought to either prove or disprove that the law was rationally related to a legitimate government interest. The challengers succeeded in arguing that the law was not rationally related to the regulation of marriage. They asserted that the distinction between same-sex and opposite-sex couples had no basis in law, as both could adopt, have children, and lead monogamous lives together. The appeals court agreed. Judge Reinhardt wrote, “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.”