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.