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The Prop 8 ruling: 5 questions & answers

SAN FRANCISCO (BP)–A landmark federal ruling on California Proposition 8 has thrust the issue of “gay marriage” back into the national spotlight. Following are five questions and answers about the ruling’s significance:

— What did the judge rule?

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker overturned California’s constitutional marriage amendment known as Proposition 8, ruling it violates the due process and equal protection rights of same-sex couples under the U.S. Constitution. Prop 8, he wrote, “does nothing more than” discriminate and “enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.” It marks the first time a federal judge has ruled there is a federal constitutional right to “gay marriage.” Prop 8, passed in 2008 by a margin of 52-48 percent, reads: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

— What happens next?

ProtectMarriage.com, the group that sponsored the amendment, is appealing the decision to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where a randomly selected three-judge panel will hear it. From there, the case could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. All total, the appeals process could last several years. Some conservative leaders, including Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, say the only solution for their side may be to pass a federal marriage amendment.

— Why is this case more significant than other “gay marriage” cases?

Most other cases have involved state courts, so their impact was limited. The current case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, is a federal case and could impact all 50 states — and in essence become the Roe v. Wade of “gay marriage.” If Walker’s legal reasoning and ruling is upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, then marriage would be redefined not only in California but also nationwide, reversing statutes and constitutional amendments in all 45 states that define marriage as between one man and one woman — 31 of which passed by voters. That’s been the goal of “gay marriage” supporters for years. In 2004, after 11 states passed marriage amendments on Election Day, Matt Foreman, then-executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, told the Associated Press: “This issue is going to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court, and it’s not going to give a [expletive] what these state constitutions say.”

— Why are some people saying the ruling could mark a cultural shift?

Because Walker made sweeping arguments about homosexuality that, collectively, have never been made in a federal ruling. Regarding marriage, he wrote: “Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals. Prop 8, he said, is an “artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage. That time has passed.” On childrearing, he wrote, “The gender of a child’s parent is not a factor in a child’s adjustment,” and, “Having both a male and a female parent does not increase the likelihood that a child will be well-adjusted.” Regarding religion, he wrote, “Religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians.” As examples of those beliefs, he cited Southern Baptist resolutions on “gay marriage” (2003) and homosexuality (1999), as well as statements on homosexuality from the Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Free Methodist Church, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and the Orthodox Church of America. All of the denominations point to Scripture in calling homosexuality sinful.

— What legal arguments will Prop 8 supporters make during their appeal?

Attorneys for ProtectMarriage.com and the Alliance Defense Fund argued at the lower court that children need mothers and fathers and the state has an interest in fostering that relationship. ProtectMarriage.com attorney Andy Pugno said in a statement after Walker’s ruling that the government “has a strong interest in channeling natural procreation into stable and enduring relationships between men and women and increase the likelihood that those children will be raised by both a mother and a father.” Opponents of “gay marriage” warn that religious freedom will suffer if the ruling is upheld, impacting everything from what is taught in public schools to how private businesses operate to the tax exempt status of religious organizations and perhaps even churches. In New Jersey, a Methodist-owned beachfront property lost part of its tax-exempt status because its leaders denied use of the property to a lesbian couple for a commitment ceremony. Said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, “The goal of this movement is to use the law to reshape the culture so that disagreement with their views on sex and marriage gets stigmatized and repressed like bigotry. Children will be taught, whether parents like it or not, that traditional faith communities’ views on marriage are based on hatred and bigotry.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. The Southern Baptist Convention has a ministry to homosexuals. Find more information at www.sbcthewayout.com.

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  • Michael Foust