Today a federal judge in California overturned that state's ban on gay marriage, ruling that it violates the 14th Amendment's command that no state may "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." In response to a lawsuit filed by two same-sex couples, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker concluded that Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot initiative that amended California's constitution to prohibit gay marriage, "unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation."
The arguments for banning gay marriage are so weak, Walker said, that they fail even the highly deferential "rational basis" test, which applies in equal protection cases that do not involve a "suspect classification" such as race. "Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians," he wrote. "The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite sex couples." In addition to accepting the plaintiffs' equal protection claim, Walker agreed that Proposition 8 violates a "fundamental right" protected by the 14th Amendment's Due Process Clause—i.e., the right to marry the person of one's choice.
The decision is bound to be appealed and may ultimately reach the Supreme Court. The text of Walker's opinion is available here. The Los Angeles Times has excerpts here. I discussed the equal protection argument for federal recognition of state-approved gay marriages here and here. More to come.