This week marked an enormous step forward for LGBT rights in the United States when Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker declared Proposition 8 – California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage – unconstitutional.
In his opinion, Judge Walker emphasized the irrelevance of one’s sex or gender in terms of relationship legitimacy and the ability to sustain a family. Marriage in the United States has not been a static tradition, especially in terms of gender equity. According to Walker, breaking down inequities between men and women in heterosexual marriage serves as a precursor to same-sex marriage:
Relative gender composition aside, same-sex couples are situated identically to opposite-sex couples in terms of their ability to perform the rights and obligations of marriage under California law. … Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals.
The overturn of Prop 8 is a victory not just for the LGBT community, but for supporters of reproductive rights as well. As Shira Saperstein writes:
Reproductive rights are about nothing less than the ability to chart one’s own course in life—to make decisions about love, sex, and family without government interference or discrimination. That ability is central to core American values of freedom, equality, and fairness.
In terms of American marriage, charting one’s own course in life is enmeshed with the decision to have (or not to have) children. A major argument in support of Prop 8 is the inability of same-sex couples to produce children through sexual intercourse, but this is an issue that realistically affects some heterosexual marriages as well. Linking the ability to procreate with the legitimacy of a relationship would, in effect, be declaring a significant number of opposite-sex marriages meaningless (not to mention backtracking considerably in terms of women’s roles in society).
Judge Walker addresses the procreation claim, saying, “Never has the state inquired into procreative capacity or intent before issuing a marriage license; indeed, a marriage license is more than a license to have procreative sexual intercourse.”
As Jessica Arons points out, much of Judge Walker’s decision is grounded in the interrelated nature of discrimination. He discusses the necessity of sex equality and sexual orientation equality as the foundation for marriage equality. He also strikes down the notion that same-sex couples are inferior parents, stating:
The evidence does not support a finding that California has an interest in preferring opposite-sex parents over same-sex parents. Indeed, the evidence shows beyond any doubt that parents’ genders are irrelevant to children’s developmental outcomes….Proposition 8 makes it less likely that California children will be raised in stable households….the evidence shows Proposition 8 disadvantages families and their children.
Jessica Arons says it well when she writes, “reproductive and sexual rights are integrally and intimately linked. When one is undermined so is the other. But when one is affirmed, the victory is doubly sweet.” The overturn of Proposition 8 is a great win in the ongoing fight for LGBT rights and reproductive justice.