February 7, 2012

Appeals Court Finds California's Proposition 8 Unconstitutional

The 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals in San Francisco today upheld the ruling by a lower federal court that California's controversial Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. The Court held that Proposition 8 denies same-sex couples the right to a civil marriage in violation of the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, and "serves no purpose... than to lessen the status of gays and lesbians in California..."

Supporters of Proposition 8 say they are prepared to take the matter all the way to the United States Supreme Court. And, despite today's ruling, a "stay" remains in place preventing the order from going into effect (allowing same-sex couples to marry) until the appeals process has been exhausted or further court order.

Additionally, the 9th Circuit found no reason that U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker should have either recused himself from the underlying case or disclosed his own sexual orientation prior to taking the case. Walker, who is gay, was found to have properly heard, analyzed and ruled on the case. Supporters of Proposition 8 also tried previously to have Walker's ruling that the law was unconstitutional thrown out to no avail.

This matter is by no means resolved, and may very likely result in an ultimate appeal to the United States Supreme Court. However, at first read, it appears that the 9th Circuit based their analysis, in large part, on the specific circumstances here in California that led to Proposition 8 in the first place; that is, the history of permitting domestic partnerships and extending marital rights to registered domestic partners (without the title) and eventually the ruling by the California Supreme Court that same-sex couples were entitled to marry under the California state constitution. Accordingly, there is a possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court may consider the ruling to apply only in California and not to other states as a whole.

Stay tuned, there's definitely more to come.

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November 10, 2010

UK Couple Sues for Right to Civil Union Instead of Marriage

Here's a new twist on the heated debate we have here in California regarding civil unions vs. marriage. The ABA Journal reports that a straight couple in the UK are suing for the right to tie the knot in a civil union rather than in marriage.

Over the past few years here in California, the state has gone from expanding the Family Code to permit same-sex couples to register as domestic partners with the same rights and privileges as spouses, to the Supreme Court determining that marriage for same-sex couples was a constitutional right, to Proposition 8 which amended the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. And the story is still unfolding in the courts. Currently, Proposition 8 has been found to violate the federal constitution on multiple grounds, and an appeal is working its way through the appellate courts.

Gay couples across the country, and around the world, have long argued that they should be entitled to marry, just as straight couples have the right to marry, instead of being forced to settle for civil unions or domestic partnerships. Opponents, led by religious groups such as the Mormon church, strongly oppose this argument and argue that marriage has "always been" between a man and a woman, and that permitting same-sex couples the right to marry would impose rules on churches that violate their dogma. They insist that same-sex couples are offered the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex couples through civil unions, just under a different name. (Note: although at the federal level, same-sex civil partners are not offered the same marital tax benefits as opposite-sex spouses.)

In this new twist, a straight couple have been denied a civil union in the UK because they are not a same-sex couple. "In our day-to-day life we feel like civil partners—we don't feel like husband and wife, and we want the government to recognize that," says Katherine Doyle. She and her partner, Tom Freeman, argue that a civil partnership under British law is more in keeping with their personal style, even though marriage and civil unions provide the same benefits.

Gay rights activists believe that a win in this case would likely help encourage the right of same-sex couples to wed. Regardless of which side of the argument you support, this will be a fascinating story to watch unfold in the coming months.

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August 4, 2010

California Proposition 8 Found Unconstitutional

A California appellate court has just ruled that Proposition 8, the state's recently enacted amendment to ban marriage between same-sex couples, has been found unconstitutional on multiple grounds.

More information to follow once the court's full opinion is released.

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July 8, 2010

Federal Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Found to be Unconstitutional

In two separate lawsuits heard by a federal court in Massachusetts, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) passed in 1996 which defines marriage as "between a man and a woman" has today been deemed unconstitutional on two separate grounds.

The federal court held that DOMA interferes with a state's right to define marriage as it sees fit. It further held that DOMA violates the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution. Although this ruling applies only to Massachusetts for now, it could have wide-ranging impact across the country.

In particular, the finding that DOMA violates the equal protection clause will be closely monitored by the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit in California alleging that Proposition 8, the law which defines marriage in California as between a man and a woman, is also unconstitutional. Plaintiffs in that case have argued that the California law is a violation of equal protection because it specifically seeks to exclude a target group of people of whom the voters disapproved.

It is expected that these two rulings will be appealed, but it is uncertain at this time how vigorously the Obama administration will attempt to overturn the court's rulings. Stay tuned, more developments are bound to happen soon.

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May 26, 2009

California Supreme Court Upholds Proposition 8 Ban on Same-Sex Marriages

The California Supreme Court has upheld the voter-enacted Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriages in the state, but at the same time upheld the legality of marriages of same-sex couples who wed prior to the ban.

This decision by the Court virtually guarantees another fight at the ballot box over marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples in California. Gay activists have indicated they may ask the voters to overturn Proposition 8 as early as next year, while supporters of Proposition 8 have pledged to fight any such efforts.

Opponents of voter-sponsored Proposition 8, including California Attorney General (and perhaps future gubernatorial candidate) Jerry Brown, had argued that Proposition 8 was an illegal constitutional revision because it took away inalienable rights based merely on a majority vote and that the legislature should have been required to place it on the ballot prior to any vote. The California Supreme Court disagreed, voting 6-1 in favor of permitting Proposition 8 to stand.

At the same time, the justices were unanimous in their decision to permit some 18,000 same-sex marriages to stand. These marriages occurred after the Court's decision in May 2008 to recognize same-sex marriage and prior to the passage of Proposition 8 in November 2008 by the voters.

Today's LA Times has a detailed story on this issue.

For more information about marriage and other California family law issues, please contact attorney Gary D. Sparks.

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November 19, 2008

California Proposition 8 Passes; State High Court to Review It

By now, everyone knows that California's Proposition 8 has passed. Prop. 8 is a constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriages in the state, and effectively overturns a ruling by the California Supreme Court that any prohibition on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional under the California Constitution.

Supporters of Prop. 8, which won by a simple majority, overcame the unconstitutionality obstacle by amending the California Constitution. Opponents of Prop. 8 now argue that the measure itself was not permissible, because it "revises" instead of "amends" the constitution. Opponents assert that the majority should not be permitted to take away the rights of the minority by a simple majority vote. (Supporters argue that this was merely an "artificial" right created by the Court in the first place.)

The New York Times reports that the California Supreme Court has now stepped in and announced that it would review the issue of whether voter-approved Proposition 8 was unconstitutional and required legislative approval prior to being submitted to the voters. Arguments are anticipated in the spring, with a decision within 90 days thereafter.

For more information about divorce, child support, custody and visitation, or other California family law issues, please contact attorney Gary D. Sparks.

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August 14, 2008

Online Self-Help Available for California Divorce, Custody, Support and Other Family Law Matters

Are you a self-represented party getting ready to begin the process of divorce in California? Or a single parent seeking child support from your children's other parent? Do you have an attorney who's not speaking to you but instead is speaking at you, and you're overwhelmed and lost in the process?

The good news is that there are plenty of self-help and information resources available on the Internet. The bad news is that the resources on the Internet are not always reliable nor accurate. Pay particular attention to the source of any information you obtain online. Amateur attorneys are everywhere, and you have to sort out the reliable information from the hyperbole.


Two of the best starting places are the self-help pages of the California Courts and the consumer information pages of the California Bar Association. If you're so inclined, you can even browse the entire California Family Code.

The California Department of Child Support Services has a very informative site for both parents, compete with an online child support calculator.

LawHelpCalifornia is a site dedicated to helping low-income families who need LegalAid or other help find the resources you need.

Finally, for families with children who are already divorced, separated or living apart, take a look at Our Family Wizard. While this is not a free service (it's a fee-based, subscription service), it provides families with an invaluable set of tools for managing shared communications, schedules and other or other information necessary for successful co-parenting relationships. In case you're wondering, I have no interest nor relationship whatsoever with the service.

Over the coming weeks and months, I plan to post more information about additional self-help resources. Bookmark this blog; or better yet, subscribe to one of the newsfeeds that are listed along the left side of your browser window.

For more information about marriage, divorce or other California family law issues, please contact attorney Gary D. Sparks.

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August 13, 2008

California Couple Files for First Same-Sex Divorce

It was bound to happen sooner or later. It happened sooner.

Theresa Ramirez and Adelita Guajardo, a gay couple who were married in Fresno County on June 27, 2008, have filed for divorce. Ramirez and Guajardo filed for divorce on June 30, just three days after being married, and appear to be the state's first same-sex couple to file for divorce under California's recently expanded marriage laws. The story appears in the Sacramento Bee.

On May 15, 2008, the California Supreme Court struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriages, holding that marriage is a fundamental right under the California Constitution [In re Marriage Cases]. The Court ordered county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting June 16, 2008. Regardless of how you feel about the issue, and I recognize that feelings run deeply on both sides, same-sex marriage is now a fundamental right in the State of California. Within the state, same-sex couples are now afforded the same rights and opportunities as heterosexual couples. Likewise, they are also burdened with the same obligations.


At the time of this posting, only Massachusetts and California recognize same-sex marriages, while other states (notably Vermont) offer civil unions that attempt to offer the same rights as marriage but under a different name. The federal government, however, specifically refuses to recognize same-sex marriage. There is an interesting commentary on the issue at FindLaw.

Opponents of the Supreme Court's decision have qualified "Proposition 8" for the November 2008 ballot. Proposition 8 is an attempt to amend the California Constitution to specifically exclude the right of same-sex couples to marry, thereby effectively circumventing the Supreme Court's decision. Proponents of Proposition 8 argue that the ballot measure is about "preserving marriage" and reversing the decision of "activist judges," and that it is not an attack on the gay lifestyle. Those opposed to the measure respond that government shouldn't be in the business of deciding who can and who can't be married, and that the issue is really about "equality, freedom and fairness, for all." More information is available from the California Secretary of State.

Ultimately, voters in the State of California will make the decision on whether they feel a ban on same-sex marriage rises to the level of a Constitutional amendment.

For more information about same-sex marriage and divorce, or other California family law issues, please contact attorney Gary D. Sparks.

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