A judge in San Francisco has outlawed a marriage protection clause to California’s constitution, despite millions of the state’s citizens voting for it.
Yesterday Judge Walker controversially ruled that the clause, which makes clear that marriage is between a man and a woman, breaches the US constitution.
President Obama has welcomed the court’s ruling, but opponents say the decision ignores a clear democratic vote and could lead to same-sex marriage being enforced on those who disagree.
In Britain there have been repeated calls to legalise full same-sex marriage. The Prime Minister David Cameron says he is happy to consider the matter, although he is in no rush.
His coalition partner, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, is keen to redefine marriage. So too is the front-runner for leadership of the Labour Party, David Miliband.
Lib Dem deputy leader, Simon Hughes, has predicted that a redefinition of marriage will be enforced before the next UK general election.
The European Court recently ruled that there is no explicit right to same-sex marriage in the European Convention on Human Rights, although member states are free to legalise it if they wish.
Yesterday’s court judgment in San Francisco opens the way for same-sex marriage to be enforced throughout California, although the effect of the ruling has been stayed pending appeal.
The case is likely to be appealed all the way to the US Supreme Court where nine judges will have the final say for the whole of America.
In 2008 a majority of Californians backed a change to their state constitution, protecting the traditional definition of marriage.
The measure was known commonly as proposition 8. Citizens were given the opportunity to vote on the question as part of the 2008 presidential election in the state.
Supporters and opponents spent over $80 million campaigning on the issue – one of the most expensive non-business related initiatives in Californian history.
Following the lively campaign, over seven million citizens (52 per cent of the vote) backed traditional marriage and almost 6.5 million voted against.
But the voter-supported change to the Californian constitution has been declared unlawful by yesterday’s court ruling.
Andy Pugno, a lawyer representing the group behind proposition 8, said the ruling sidesteps democracy.
He said: “The judge’s invalidation of the votes of over seven million Californians violates binding legal precedent and short-circuits the democratic process.
“But this is not the end of our fight to uphold the will of the people for traditional marriage, as we now begin an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.”
He added that “the role of the courts is to interpret and apply the law only as enacted by the people and their elected representatives, not to impose new social policies.”
Brian Brown from the National Organisation of Marriage, said: “With a stroke of his pen, Judge Walker has overruled the votes and values of seven million Californians who voted for marriage as one man and one woman”.
Whenever the matter has been put to a vote of the people, traditional marriage has been backed every time. Some 30 US states have laws protecting the traditional definition.
This has caused advocates of same-sex marriage to adopt an aggressive strategy of litigation in the courts in a bid to impose their definition of marriage.
Ted Olson, a former US Solicitor General under President George W. Bush, argued the case on behalf of same-sex marriage supporters.
He acknowledges the challenge of winning the case relies upon eventual appeal to the Supreme Court.
But he says he is still hopeful of victory. “With this decision, we are well on our way to an ultimate victory,” he said at a press conference.