Breaking News: Appeals court finds Prop 8 unconstitutional

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 A divided panel for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Tuesday that California's ban against same-sex marriage violates the rights of gay and lesbian couples.

The highly anticipated February 7 ruling from the three-judge appellate panel upheld the 2010 ruling by now-retired U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker that the constitutional amendment voters passed in 2008, known as Proposition 8, is unconstitutional.

Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt of Los Angeles was joined by Senior Circuit Judge Michael Daly Hawkins of Phoenix in determining that Prop 8 violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. Circuit Judge N. Randy Smith of Pocatello, Idaho disagreed in a dissenting opinion.

"Although the Constitution permits communities to enact most laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently. There is no such reason that Proposition 8 could have been enacted," states the opinion, written by Reinhardt.

The ruling, however, will continue to be stayed – meaning same-sex marriages will still be barred from happening in California – pending the court issuing a mandate.

The law did nothing to advance California's interests in childrearing or responsible procreation, added the two justices, because it had "no effect" on same-sex couples who want to raise children "or on the procreative practices of other couples."

The only thing Prop 8 did, states the opinion, was take away rights from same-sex couples.

"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," states the ruling.

In his dissent, Smith wrote that he is "not convinced" that Prop 8 lacks a "legitimate governmental interest." He later notes that the U.S. Supreme Court "has not recognized" that the right to marry "includes a fundamental right to gay marriage." Read more here.