Perry v. Schwarzenegger/13:Conclusions of Law--Equal Protection

Perry v. Schwarzenegger
13:Conclusions of Law--Equal Protection


The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that no state shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." US Const Amend XIV, § 1. Equal protection is "a pledge of the protection of equal laws." Yick Wo v Hopkins, 118 US 356, 369 (1886). The guarantee [p. 118] of equal protection coexists, of course, with the reality that most legislation must classify for some purpose or another. See Romer v Evans, 517 US 620, 631 (1996). When a law creates a classification but neither targets a suspect class nor burdens a fundamental right, the court presumes the law is valid and will uphold it as long as it is rationally related to some legitimate government interest. See, for example, Heller v Doe, 509 US 312, 319-320 (1993).

The court defers to legislative (or in this case, popular) judgment if there is at least a debatable question whether the underlying basis for the classification is rational. Minnesota v Clover Leaf Creamery Co, 449 US 456, 464 (1980). Even under the most deferential standard of review, however, the court must "insist on knowing the relation between the classification adopted and the object to be attained." Romer, 517 US at 632; Heller, 509 US at 321 (basis for a classification must "find some footing in the realities of the subject addressed by the legislation"). The court may look to evidence to determine whether the basis for the underlying debate is rational. Plyler v Doe, 457 US 202, 228 (1982) (finding an asserted interest in preserving state resources by prohibiting undocumented children from attending public school to be irrational because "the available evidence suggests that illegal aliens underutilize public services, while contributing their labor to the local economy and tax money to the state fisc"). The search for a rational relationship, while quite deferential, "ensure[s] that classifications are not drawn for the purpose of disadvantaging the group burdened by the law." Romer, 517 US at 633. The classification itself must be related to the purported [p. 119] interest. Plyler, 457 US at 220 ("It is difficult to conceive of a rational basis for penalizing [undocumented children] for their presence within the United States," despite the state's interest in preserving resources.).

Most laws subject to rational basis easily survive equal protection review, because a legitimate reason can nearly always be found for treating different groups in an unequal manner. See Romer, 517 US at 633. Yet, to survive rational basis review, a law must do more than disadvantage or otherwise harm a particular group. United States Department of Agriculture v Moreno, 413 US 528, 534 (1973).


Plaintiffs challenge Proposition 8 as violating the Equal Protection Clause because Proposition 8 discriminates both on the basis of sex and on the basis of sexual orientation. Sexual orientation discrimination can take the form of sex discrimination. Here, for example, Perry is prohibited from marrying Stier, a woman, because Perry is a woman. If Perry were a man, Proposition 8 would not prohibit the marriage. Thus, Proposition 8 operates to restrict Perry's choice of marital partner because of her sex. But Proposition 8 also operates to restrict Perry's choice of marital partner because of her sexual orientation; her desire to marry another woman arises only because she is a lesbian.

The evidence at trial shows that gays and lesbians experience discrimination based on unfounded stereotypes and prejudices specific to sexual orientation. Gays and lesbians have historically been targeted for discrimination because of their [p. 120] sexual orientation; that discrimination continues to the present. FF 74-76. As the case of Perry and the other plaintiffs illustrates, sex and sexual orientation are necessarily interrelated, as an individual’s choice of romantic or intimate partner based on sex is a large part of what defines an individual's sexual orientation. See FF 42-43. Sexual orientation discrimination is thus a phenomenon distinct from, but related to, sex discrimination.

Proponents argue that Proposition 8 does not target gays and lesbians because its language does not refer to them. In so arguing, proponents seek to mask their own initiative. FF 57. Those who choose to marry someone of the opposite sex —— heterosexuals —— do not have their choice of marital partner restricted by Proposition 8. Those who would choose to marry someone of the same sex —— homosexuals —— have had their right to marry eliminated by an amendment to the state constitution. Homosexual conduct and identity together define what it means to be gay or lesbian. See FF 42-43. Indeed, homosexual conduct and attraction are constitutionally protected and integral parts of what makes someone gay or lesbian. Lawrence, 539 US at 579; FF 42-43; see also Christian Legal Society v Martinez, 561 US __, 130 SCt 2971, No 08-1371 Slip Op at 23 ("Our decisions have declined to distinguish between status and conduct in [the context of sexual orientation].") (June 28, 2010) (citing Lawrence, 539 US at 583 (O'Connor, J, concurring)).

Proposition 8 targets gays and lesbians in a manner specific to their sexual orientation and, because of their relationship to one another, Proposition 8 targets them [p. 121] specifically due to sex. Having considered the evidence, the relationship between sex and sexual orientation and the fact that Proposition 8 eliminates a right only a gay man or a lesbian would exercise, the court determines that plaintiffs' equal protection claim is based on sexual orientation, but this claim is equivalent to a claim of discrimination based on sex.


As presently explained in detail, the Equal Protection Clause renders Proposition 8 unconstitutional under any standard of review. Accordingly, the court need not address the question whether laws classifying on the basis of sexual orientation should be subject to a heightened standard of review.

Although Proposition 8 fails to possess even a rational basis, the evidence presented at trial shows that gays and lesbians are the type of minority strict scrutiny was designed to protect. Massachusetts Board of Retirement v Murgia, 427 US 307, 313 (1976) (noting that strict scrutiny may be appropriate where a group has experienced a "'history of purposeful unequal treatment' or been subjected to unique disabilities on the basis of stereotyped characteristics not truly indicative of their abilities" (quoting San Antonio School District v Rodriguez, 411 US 1, 28 (1973)). See FF 42-43, 46-48, 74-78. Proponents admit that "same-sex sexual orientation does not result in any impairment in judgment or general social and vocational capabilities." PX0707 at RFA No 21.

The court asked the parties to identify a difference between heterosexuals and homosexuals that the government might fairly need to take into account when crafting legislation. Doc [p. 122] #677 at 8. Proponents pointed only to a difference between same-sex couples (who are incapable through sexual intercourse of producing offspring biologically related to both parties) and opposite-sex couples (some of whom are capable through sexual intercourse of producing such offspring). Doc #687 at 32-34. Proponents did not, however, advance any reason why the government may use sexual orientation as a proxy for fertility or why the government may need to take into account fertility when legislating. Consider, by contrast, City of Cleburne v Cleburne Living Center, 473 US 432, 444 (1985) (Legislation singling out a class for differential treatment hinges upon a demonstration of "real and undeniable differences" between the class and others); see also United States v Virginia, 518 US 515, 533 (1996) ("Physical differences between men and women...are enduring."). No evidence at trial illuminated distinctions among lesbians, gay men and heterosexuals amounting to "real and undeniable differences" that the government might need to take into account in legislating.

The trial record shows that strict scrutiny is the appropriate standard of review to apply to legislative classifications based on sexual orientation. All classifications based on sexual orientation appear suspect, as the evidence shows that California would rarely, if ever, have a reason to categorize individuals based on their sexual orientation. FF 47. Here, however, strict scrutiny is unnecessary. Proposition 8 fails to survive even rational basis review.


Proposition 8 cannot withstand any level of scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause, as excluding same-sex couples from marriage is simply not rationally related to a legitimate state interest. One example of a legitimate state interest in not issuing marriage licenses to a particular group might be a scarcity of marriage licenses or county officials to issue them. But marriage licenses in California are not a limited commodity, and the existence of 18,000 same-sex married couples in California shows that the state has the resources to allow both same-sex and opposite-sex couples to wed. See Background to Proposition 8 above.

Proponents put forth several rationales for Proposition 8, see Doc #605 at 12-15, which the court now examines in turn: (1) reserving marriage as a union between a man and a woman and excluding any other relationship from marriage; (2) proceeding with caution when implementing social changes; (3) promoting opposite-sex parenting over same-sex parenting; (4) protecting the freedom of those who oppose marriage for same-sex couples; (5) treating same-sex couples differently from opposite-sex couples; and (6) any other conceivable interest.


Proponents first argue that Proposition 8 is rational because it preserves: (1) "the traditional institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman"; (2) "the traditional social and legal purposes, functions, and structure of marriage"; and (3) "the traditional meaning of marriage as it has always been defined in [p. 124] the English language.” Doc #605 at 12-13. These interests relate to maintaining the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman for its own sake.

Tradition alone, however, cannot form a rational basis for a law. Williams v Illinois, [399 U.S. 235|399 US 235]], 239 (1970). The "ancient lineage" of a classification does not make it rational. Heller, 509 US at 327. Rather, the state must have an interest apart from the fact of the tradition itself.

The evidence shows that the tradition of restricting an individual's choice of spouse based on gender does not rationally further a state interest despite its "ancient lineage." Instead, the evidence shows that the tradition of gender restrictions arose when spouses were legally required to adhere to specific gender roles. See FF 26-27. California has eliminated all legally-mandated gender roles except the requirement that a marriage consist of one man and one woman. FF 32. Proposition 8 thus enshrines in the California Constitution a gender restriction that the evidence shows to be nothing more than an artifact of a foregone notion that men and women fulfill different roles in civic life.

The tradition of restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples does not further any state interest. Rather, the evidence shows that Proposition 8 harms the state's interest in equality, because it mandates that men and women be treated differently based only on antiquated and discredited notions of gender. See FF 32, 57.

Proponents' argument that tradition prefers opposite-sex couples to same-sex couples equates to the notion that opposite-sex [p. 125] relationships are simply better than same-sex relationships. Tradition alone cannot legitimate this purported interest. Plaintiffs presented evidence showing conclusively that the state has no interest in preferring opposite-sex couples to same-sex couples or in preferring heterosexuality to homosexuality. See FF 48-50. Moreover, the state cannot have an interest in disadvantaging an unpopular minority group simply because the group is unpopular. Moreno, 413 US at 534.

The evidence shows that the state advances nothing when it adheres to the tradition of excluding same-sex couples from marriage. Proponents’ asserted state interests in tradition are nothing more than tautologies and do not amount to rational bases for Proposition 8.


Proponents next argue that Proposition 8 is related to state interests in: (1) "[a]cting incrementally and with caution when considering a radical transformation to the fundamental nature of a bedrock social institution"; (2) "[d]ecreasing the probability of weakening the institution of marriage"; (3) "[d]ecreasing the probability of adverse consequences that could result from weakening the institution of marriage"; and (4) "[d]ecreasing the probability of the potential adverse consequences of same-sex marriage." Doc #605 at 13-14.

Plaintiffs presented evidence at trial sufficient to rebut any claim that marriage for same-sex couples amounts to a sweeping social change. See FF 55. Instead, the evidence shows beyond debate that allowing same-sex couples to marry has at least [p. 126] a neutral, if not a positive, effect on the institution of marriage and that same-sex couples' marriages would benefit the state. Id. Moreover, the evidence shows that the rights of those opposed to homosexuality or same-sex couples will remain unaffected if the state ceases to enforce Proposition 8. FF 55, 62.

The contrary evidence proponents presented is not credible. Indeed, proponents presented no reliable evidence that allowing same-sex couples to marry will have any negative effects on society or on the institution of marriage. The process of allowing same-sex couples to marry is straightforward, and no evidence suggests that the state needs any significant lead time to integrate same-sex couples into marriage. See Background to Proposition 8 above. Consider, by contrast, Cooper v Aaron, 358 US 1, 7 (1958) (recognizing that a school district needed time to implement racial integration but nevertheless finding a delay unconstitutional because the school board's plan did not provide for "the earliest practicable completion of desegregation"). The evidence shows that allowing same-sex couples to marry will be simple for California to implement because it has already done so; no change need be phased in. California need not restructure any institution to allow same-sex couples to marry. See FF 55.

Because the evidence shows same-sex marriage has and will have no adverse effects on society or the institution of marriage, California has no interest in waiting and no practical need to wait to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Proposition 8 is thus not rationally related to proponents' purported interests in proceeding with caution when implementing social change.


Proponents' largest group of purported state interests relates to opposite-sex parents. Proponents argue Proposition 8: (1) promotes "stability and responsibility in naturally procreative relationships"; (2) promotes "enduring and stable family structures for the responsible raising and care of children by their biological parents"; (3) increases "the probability that natural procreation will occur within stable, enduring, and supporting family structures"; (4) promotes "the natural and mutually beneficial bond between parents and their biological children"; (5) increases "the probability that each child will be raised by both of his or her biological parents"; (6) increases "the probability that each child will be raised by both a father and a mother"; and (7) increases "the probability that each child will have a legally recognized father and mother." Doc #605 at 13-14.

The evidence supports two points which together show Proposition 8 does not advance any of the identified interests: (1) same-sex parents and opposite-sex parents are of equal quality, FF 69-73, and (2) Proposition 8 does not make it more likely that opposite-sex couples will marry and raise offspring biologically related to both parents, FF 43, 46, 51.

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. FF 70. Moreover, Proposition 8 has nothing to do with children, as Proposition 8 simply prevents same-sex couples from marrying. FF [p. 128] 57. Same-sex couples can have (or adopt) and raise children. When they do, they are treated identically to opposite-sex parents under California law. FF 49. Even if California had an interest in preferring opposite-sex parents to same-sex parents —— and the evidence plainly shows that California does not —— Proposition 8 is not rationally related to that interest, because Proposition 8 does not affect who can or should become a parent under California law. FF 49, 57.

To the extent California has an interest in encouraging sexual activity to occur within marriage (a debatable proposition in light of Lawrence, 539 US at 571) the evidence shows Proposition 8 to be detrimental to that interest. Because of Proposition 8, same-sex couples are not permitted to engage in sexual activity within marriage. FF 53. Domestic partnerships, in which sexual activity is apparently expected, are separate from marriage and thus codify California's encouragement of non-marital sexual activity. Cal Fam Code §§ 297-299.6. To the extent proponents seek to encourage a norm that sexual activity occur within marriage to ensure that reproduction occur within stable households, Proposition 8 discourages that norm because it requires some sexual activity and child-bearing and child-rearing to occur outside marriage.

Proponents argue Proposition 8 advances a state interest in encouraging the formation of stable households. Instead, the evidence shows that Proposition 8 undermines that state interest, because same-sex households have become less stable by the passage of Proposition 8. The inability to marry denies same-sex couples the benefits, including stability, attendant to marriage. FF 50. [p. 129] Proponents failed to put forth any credible evidence that married opposite-sex households are made more stable through Proposition 8. FF 55. The only rational conclusion in light of the evidence is that Proposition 8 makes it less likely that California children will be raised in stable households. See FF 50, 56.

None of the interests put forth by proponents relating to parents and children is advanced by Proposition 8; instead, the evidence shows Proposition 8 disadvantages families and their children.


Proponents next argue that Proposition 8 protects the First Amendment freedom of those who disagree with allowing marriage for couples of the same sex. Proponents argue that Proposition 8: (1) preserves "the prerogative and responsibility of parents to provide for the ethical and moral development and education of their own children"; and (2) accommodates "the First Amendment rights of individuals and institutions that oppose same-sex marriage on religious or moral grounds." Doc #605 at 14.

These purported interests fail as a matter of law. Proposition 8 does not affect any First Amendment right or responsibility of parents to educate their children. See In re Marriage Cases, 183 P3d at 451-452. Californians are prevented from distinguishing between same-sex partners and opposite-sex spouses in public accommodations, as California antidiscrimination law requires identical treatment for same-sex unions and opposite-sex marriages. Koebke v Bernardo Heights Country Club, 115 P3d 1212, 1217-1218 (Cal 2005). The evidence shows that Proposition 8 [p. 130] does nothing other than eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. See FF 57, 62. Proposition 8 is not rationally related to an interest in protecting the rights of those opposed to same-sex couples because, as a matter of law, Proposition 8 does not affect the rights of those opposed to homosexuality or to marriage for couples of the same sex. FF 62.

To the extent proponents argue that one of the rights of those morally opposed to same-sex unions is the right to prevent same-sex couples from marrying, as explained presently those individuals' moral views are an insufficient basis upon which to enact a legislative classification.


Proponents argue that Proposition 8 advances a state interest in treating same-sex couples differently from opposite-sex couples by: (1) "[u]sing different names for different things"; (2) "[m]aintaining the flexibility to separately address the needs of different types of relationships"; (3) "[e]nsuring that California marriages are recognized in other jurisdictions"; and (4) "[c]onforming California's definition of marriage to federal law." Doc #605 at 14.

Here, proponents assume a premise that the evidence thoroughly rebutted: rather than being different, same-sex and opposite-sex unions are, for all purposes relevant to California law, exactly the same. FF 47-50. The evidence shows conclusively that moral and religious views form the only basis for a belief that same-sex couples are different from opposite-sex couples. See FF 48, 76-80. The evidence fatally undermines any purported state [p. 131] interest in treating couples differently; thus, these interests do not provide a rational basis supporting Proposition 8.

In addition, proponents appear to claim that Proposition 8 advances a state interest in easing administrative burdens associated with issuing and recognizing marriage licenses. Under precedents such as Craig v Boren, "administrative ease and convenience" are not important government objectives. 429 US 190, 198 (1976). Even assuming the state were to have an interest in administrative convenience, Proposition 8 actually creates an administrative burden on California because California must maintain a parallel institution for same-sex couples to provide the equivalent rights and benefits afforded to married couples. See FF 53. Domestic partnerships create an institutional scheme that must be regulated separately from marriage. Compare Cal Fam Code §§ 297-299.6 with Cal Fam Code §§ 300-536. California may determine whether to retain domestic partnerships or eliminate them in the absence of Proposition 8; the court presumes, however, that as long as Proposition 8 is in effect, domestic partnerships and the accompanying administrative burden will remain. Proposition 8 thus hinders rather than advances administrative convenience.


Finally, proponents assert that Proposition 8 advances "[a]ny other conceivable legitimate interests identified by the parties, amici, or the court at any stage of the proceedings." Doc #605 at 15. But proponents, amici and the court, despite ample opportunity and a full trial, have failed to identify any rational basis Proposition 8 could conceivably advance. Proponents, [p. 132] represented by able and energetic counsel, developed a full trial record in support of Proposition 8. The resulting evidence shows that Proposition 8 simply conflicts with the guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Many of the purported interests identified by proponents are nothing more than a fear or unarticulated dislike of same-sex couples. Those interests that are legitimate are unrelated to the classification drawn by Proposition 8. The evidence shows that, by every available metric, opposite-sex couples are not better than their same-sex counterparts; instead, as partners, parents and citizens, opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples are equal. FF 47-50. Proposition 8 violates the Equal Protection Clause because it does not treat them equally.


In the absence of a rational basis, what remains of proponents' case is an inference, amply supported by evidence in the record, that Proposition 8 was premised on the belief that same-sex couples simply are not as good as opposite-sex couples. FF 78-80. Whether that belief is based on moral disapproval of homosexuality, animus towards gays and lesbians or simply a belief that a relationship between a man and a woman is inherently better than a relationship between two men or two women, this belief is not a proper basis on which to legislate. See Romer, 517 US at 633; Moreno, 413 US at 534; Palmore v Sidoti, 466 US 429, 433 (1984) ("[T]he Constitution cannot control [private biases] but neither can it tolerate them.").

[p. 133] The evidence shows that Proposition 8 was a hard-fought campaign and that the majority of California voters supported the initiative. See Background to Proposition 8 above, FF 17-18, 79-80. The arguments surrounding Proposition 8 raise a question similar to that addressed in Lawrence, when the Court asked whether a majority of citizens could use the power of the state to enforce "profound and deep convictions accepted as ethical and moral principles" through the criminal code. 539 US at 571. The question here is whether California voters can enforce those same principles through regulation of marriage licenses. They cannot. California's obligation is to treat its citizens equally, not to "mandate [its] own moral code." Id (citing Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa v Casey, 505 US 833, 850, (1992)). "[M]oral disapproval, without any other asserted state interest," has never been a rational basis for legislation. Lawrence, 539 US at 582 (O'Connor, J, concurring). Tradition alone cannot support legislation. See Williams, 399 US at 239; Romer, 517 US at 635; Lawrence, 539 US at 579.

Proponents' purported rationales are nothing more than post-hoc justifications. While the Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit post-hoc rationales, they must connect to the classification drawn. Here, the purported state interests fit so poorly with Proposition 8 that they are irrational, as explained above. What is left is evidence that Proposition 8 enacts a moral view that there is something "wrong" with same-sex couples. See FF 78-80.

The evidence at trial regarding the campaign to pass Proposition 8 uncloaks the most likely explanation for its passage: [p. 134] a desire to advance the belief that opposite-sex couples are morally superior to same-sex couples. FF 79-80. The campaign relied heavily on negative stereotypes about gays and lesbians and focused on protecting children from inchoate threats vaguely associated with gays and lesbians. FF 79-80; See PX0016 Video, Have You Thought About It? (video of a young girl asking whether the viewer has considered the consequences to her of Proposition 8 but not explaining what those consequences might be).

At trial, proponents' counsel attempted through cross-examination to show that the campaign wanted to protect children from learning about same-sex marriage in school. See PX0390A Video, Ron Prentice Addressing Supporters of Proposition 8, Excerpt; Tr 132:25-133:3 (proponents' counsel to Katami: "But the fact is that what the Yes on 8 campaign was pointing at, is that kids would be taught about same-sex relationships in first and second grade; isn't that a fact, that that's what they were referring to?"). The evidence shows, however, that Proposition 8 played on a fear that exposure to homosexuality would turn children into homosexuals and that parents should dread having children who are not heterosexual. FF 79; PX0099 Video, It's Already Happened (mother's expression of horror upon realizing her daughter now knows she can marry a princess).

The testimony of George Chauncey places the Protect Marriage campaign advertisements in historical context as echoing messages from previous campaigns to enact legal measures to disadvantage gays and lesbians. FF 74, 77-80. The Protect Marriage campaign advertisements ensured California voters had these previous fear-inducing messages in mind. FF 80. The [p. 135] evidence at trial shows those fears to be completely unfounded. FF 47-49, 68-73, 76-80.

Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians. The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples. FF 76, 79-80; Romer, 517 US at 634 ("[L]aws of the kind now before us raise the inevitable inference that the disadvantage imposed is born of animosity toward the class of persons affected."). Because Proposition 8 disadvantages gays and lesbians without any rational justification, Proposition 8 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.