On Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in support of Judge Walker's decision that Prop 8 was unconstitutional.
Two same-sex couples challenged Proposition 8 only a few days before the California Supreme Court upheld the ban on same-sex marriage as a valid state constitutional amendment. The resulting trial, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, ended with Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruling against Prop 8 on the grounds that it violated the Fourteenth Amendment.
But the saga wasn't over. In Perry v. Brown, an appeal to Judge Walker's decision was filed at the Ninth Circuit Court, with Prop 8 supporters arguing for a stay on the initial appeal of Prop 8. They won that delay, and then moved to have Judge Walker's decision appealed.
In a two-one decision today, however, a three-judge panel in San Francisco agreed that Proposition 8 was a violation of the civil rights of gay and lesbian people, and that Judge Walker's ruling would be supported.
Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote in Tuesday's ruling.
But what does this mean for LGBT couples? What was Walker's original ruling? And who were the judges who ruled in this case? Find out everything you need to know about the Prop 8 ruling here, and what comes next.
Below, find out the basics of everything you need to know about Tuesday's historic decision to strike down Proposition 8, from the furor that accompanied Judge Walker's decision to why, even after Prop 8 has been abolished, same-sex marriage may be a long time coming in California.
1. Judge Walker's Ruling: The (Un)Constitutionality of Proposition 8
In his August 4, 2010 decision, Judge Walker struck down Prop 8 as unconstitutional under both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Due Process Clause applies in this case because the government is restricted from infringing on its citizen's fundamental rights, which include things like the right to privacy and the right for two consenting adults to marry.
In his ruling, Judge Walker held that a couple's sex or gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage, and that, therefore, the state of California had no legitimate interest in denying the right to marry to gay couples.
The Equal Protection Clause, meanwhile, essentially requires that all people be treated equally under the law.
Exceptions to this Fourteenth Amendment clause, such as restricting women from serving in combat units, has been allowed in the past, but courts will only uphold these laws if they have a rational basis and can withstand strict scrutiny, especially if the law or laws targets a group that has suffered a history of inequality or prejudice.
Because of the mutability of the law in this case, Judge Walker's case rested on findings of fact rather than findings of law. He presented 80 findings of fact in the Perry case, including the difference in civil liberties between LGBT civil unions and heterosexual marriages, the ability of same-sex couples to be good parents and the immutable nature of sexual orientation.
These findings combined assert that Prop 8 was unconstitutional both because the California government had no right to interfere and that their interference was a violation of LGBT couples' civil rights, a viewpoint the three-judge panel confirmed in Tuesday's ruling.
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, the ruling stated.
2. The 'Trouble' With Judge Walker
Much of the discussion in the Perry v. Brown case dealt with hypotheticals and facts. One part of Tuesday's decision, however, was deeply personal.
Judge Walker, the man who struck down Prop 8 retired as a federal judge in February 2011. In April, he made what some considered a scandalous announcement: He himself is gay, and has been in a committed same-sex relationship for roughly a decade.
Supporters of Proposition 8 immediately filed a motion in district court to invalidate Walker's decision. They argued that the judge should have recused himself from the case, since he had what they considered a direct personal interest in the outcome.
District Court Judge James Ware heard their arguments, but denied their motion. He argued that the assumption that a judge would be biased simply because he belonged to the class against whom the unconstitutional law was directed would require recusal of minority judges in virtually all cases involving civil rights.
The Prop 8 panel was also deeply skeptical about tossing out Judge Walker's ruling based on his sexual orientation and relationship status, a decision they could have made independently of Judge Ware. Instead, the three-judge panel ruled it had no bearing on the case.
3. Who Judged The Case?
Only a few hours after the Ninth Circuit Court's ruling, proponents of Prop 8 are already talking of challenging the decision based on judicial bias, the same argument they tried to make against Judge Walker for his sexual orientation.
Stephen Reinhardt, who headed the three-judge panel, is considered a solid liberal, and Prop 8 supporters have tried to disqualify him from hearing the case, a motion that was rejected. Still, after the panel's two-one ruling, some feel Reinhardt had no place on the panel.
Stephen Reinhardt, the author of today's absurd ruling, is the most overturned federal judge in America, John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, said in statement bashing the decision.
But Reinhardt was balanced in this case by Michael Hawkins, a Clinton appointee and moderate, and N. Randy Smith, who was appointed by George W. Bush. Smith, who gave the dissenting vote in Tuesday's ruling, felt its proponents did have the right to try to appeal Judge Walker's decision, and that there were legitimate government interests in restricting the definition of marriage to that between a man and a woman.
Lawyer Erwin Chemerinsky has characterized the panel as ideologically diverse.
4. Prop 8 Is Headed For U.S. Supreme Court
Proponents of the newly defeated Proposition 8 have two options.
They could request an en banc hearing. Essentially, the decision by the three-judge panel would be reviewed by all the judges on the appeals court, with in the Ninth Circuit involves 11 of the court's judges. In order for this to happen, a majority of all active judges would have to vote to hear the case again, something legal experts say is unlikely to happen.
What's more likely is that the case will go to the U.S. Supreme Court, something proponents of Prop 8 are counting on.
In a statement, Andy Pugno, general counsel for Proposition 8, called the ruling a misguided decision that disregards the will of California voters and pledged to immediately appeal. Our path to the U.S. Supreme Court is now very clear, he said.
But with the amount of publicity involved in this case, it's likely that at least four of the nine judges will agree to hear the counterargument, enough to move it to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Legal analysts for Mercury News even speculate that the Ninth Circuit Court restricted the decision to California so that it was narrow enough to give the ruling better footing in a Supreme Court hearing.
5. Still Hurdles For Same-Sex Marriage
Gov. Jerry Brown, who also has refused to defend Proposition 8, issued a statement saying the ruling is a powerful affirmation of the right of same-sex couples to marry.
But just because the decision to strike down Proposition 8 has been supported by the Ninth Circuit Court doesn't mean that LGBT couples will be able to get married immediately, or even in the months to come.
The stay issued after Judge Walker's decision back in 2010 kept gay and lesbian couples from getting married for over a year now. It's likely that a stay will be issued in this case as well, especially if Perry v. Schwarzenegger (Perry v. Brown) goes to the U.S. Supreme Court or Prop 8 supporters move for an en banc hearing.
Prop 8 supporters, meanwhile, have been expecting this decision since Judge Walker's original ruling in 2010, and are already prepping for a U.S. federal trial.
No court should presume to redefine marriage, Brian Raum, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, told Mercury News.
We are not surprised that this Hollywood-orchestrated attack on marriage--tried in San Francisco--turned out this way. But we are confident that the expressed will of the American people in favor of marriage will be upheld in the Supreme Court.
Kristin Perry and Sandy Stier, however, the Berkeley couple whose fight to get married began the legal battle against Prop 8, know the legal hurdles they still face, but remain optimistic.
We can't wait for that day [when we can get married], Perry told the San Jose Mercury News. Now, Sandy and I are closer to achieving that reality.
Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, also issued a statement about the historic ruling.
Today's powerful court ruling striking down the infamous Prop 8 affirms basic American values, Wolfson was quoted by The Guardian as saying. [The decision] helps tear down a discriminatory barrier to marriage that benefits no one while making it harder for people to take care of their loved ones.