Backgrounder prepared by Department of Communications, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Questions and Answers About Perry v. Schwarzenegger (N.D. Cal. Aug. 4, 2010)

What is Proposition 8?

Proposition 8 is an amendment to the  California Constitution adopted by California voters in 2008. Similar to laws  adopted in a majority of states, Proposition 8 provides that marriage in  California is only the union of one man and one woman.

What is the basis for the judge's decision?

The judge ruled that Proposition 8  violated two provisions of the U.S. Constitution (due process and equal  protection) because in his view it lacks a rational relation to any legitimate  government interest. In essence, he ruled that there is a federal  constitutional right to government recognition of same-sex "marriage" – that  is, he claimed that the government has the ability and constitutional duty to  redefine marriage to include two persons of the same sex.

Where does the ruling apply?

Technically only in California. If,  however, the Ninth Circuit were to affirm, then the appeals court's decision  would create binding precedent in that circuit (the nine western-most states,  including California). The case may ultimately end up in the Supreme Court,  where a decision will have ramifications for the entire country.

What is wrong with the district judge's decision?

Marriage, the union of one man and  one woman, is an institution recognized throughout history. As a union  naturally capable of and open to conceiving and nurturing children, marriage is  essential to the well-being of society, more so than any other human  institution that the state recognizes and supports. The court was mistaken when  it found no rational basis for the timeless definition of marriage.

Is preserving marriage between one man and one woman like the ban on  interracial marriage that the Supreme Court invalidated in 1967?

No. Bans on interracial marriage  furthered a system of segregation; they are from a now-discredited era in which  people were judged and stigmatized by the color of their skin. Marriage, by  contrast, stigmatizes no one. It is, by its very nature, the union of one man  and one woman. Sexual difference is an essential characteristic of marriage;  racial sameness or difference is not.

What's wrong with allowing two  people of the same sex to "marry"?

There are several reasons why  redefining marriage is wrong. The consequences would include a neglect of the  essential place of sexual difference and complementarity between husband and  wife, the neglect of the rights of children to a mother and a father, the false  claim that men and women, fathers and mothers, do not matter for families or  for society, and requiring a radical revision of laws and education.In law,  marriage is shorthand for a package of benefits and responsibilities that the  law grants or imposes upon persons who enter into that relationship. The  government does not act irrationally or unconstitutionally when it decides not  to regulate (i.e., grant comparable legal benefits to, or impose comparable  legal responsibilities upon) same-sex couples. Treating different things  differently is not unjust discrimination. It's respecting the unique reality of  the relationship between a husband and a wife, who alone are capable of forming  a union open to new life.

How is voter approval of Proposition 8 and similar laws relevant to this  debate?

The people recognize what marriage  is. The decision not to extend marital benefits or responsibilities to two  persons of the same sex is well-grounded and certainly rational.

Isn't marriage simply a social  construct subject to redefinition?

No. Marriage is not devised or invented by people. It  is given in nature, human nature. Only a man and a woman – by nature and not by  human invention – are capable of forming a spousal union and generating  children. That some marriages do not generate, or are incapable of generating,  children, or that technological means are sometimes employed to create children  outside the sexual act, does not alter the fundamental fact of sexual  complementarity between men and women that is part of, and given in, human  nature.