Episcopalians joined thousands of Californians at celebratory rallies and prayer vigils Aug. 4 after a federal judge overturned as unconstitutional Proposition 8, the state's voter-approved ban on gay marriage.
U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker in San Francisco ruled Aug. 4 that the measure "fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license.
"Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples," said Walker. "Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional."
After news of Walker's decision Bishop Jon Bruno of the Diocese of Los Angeles issued a statement: "Justice is advancing thanks to today's ruling affirming Californians' constitutional right to marriage in faithful, same-gender relationships."
Though the struggle is far from over, Bruno predicted ultimate success. Walker's decision is likely to be appealed, but he added that "it is only a matter of time before its [Proposition 8's] narrow constraints are ultimately nullified by the courts and our citizens' own increasing knowledge about the diversity of God's creation.'"
Later in the day, several hundred people gathered at an 8 p.m. interfaith service of "prayer, candlelight and music," and thanksgiving at Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles, said the Rev. Canon Susan Russell.
"We were there to say that God loves absolutely everybody equally," said Russell, a guest speaker at the Community Prayer for Social Justice rally where more than a dozen LGBT and other community groups celebrated Walker's decision.
"The ruling today was a giant step forward," added Russell, chair of the program group on gay and lesbian ministry for the Los Angeles diocese and a former president of Integrity USA, a LGBT advocacy group within the Episcopal Church.
"We were really gratified by the turnout and by the diversity of the crowd" ethnically, racially and age-wise, she said. But, she added that, "as people of faith, the challenge is, what's our role in all this?"
In a statement released earlier in the day, Bishop Marc Andrus of the Episcopal Diocese of California cited General Convention 2006 Resolution A095, which reaffirmed "the Episcopal Church's historical support of gay and lesbian persons as children of God and entitled to full civil rights."
Later, he paraphrased the Sermon on the Mount while addressing a gathering at San Francisco City Hall. Jesus' blessings may be understood as congratulations, he said.
"All these congratulations and blessings are so that we can keep on moving, to extend congratulations to LGBT people in places where persecution is still intense, to use our great energies to help children get food and education, to give strength and support to women everywhere, to fight world-class diseases like HIV/AIDS, to heal the wounded planet," he told the gathering.
But he also added "tomorrow we continue the fight, lending our strength, the blessing of God, to those who need it."
Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves of the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real in central California said in a statement that she was "celebrating the overruling of Prop. 8 along with other supporters affirming that same-sex couples have the constitutional right to marriage. Our policy of blessings in the diocese for same-sex couples has been in effect for years and will continue. In El Camino Real we seek to honor the dignity of every human being and are pleased that our state laws will affirm this Christian teaching."
In San Diego, the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle Jr., Integrity vice president for national affairs, and a spokesperson for California Faith for Equality called upon people of faith to engage daily the work of "pressing for full inclusion and equality in the 'court of public opinion and experience.'
"We cannot rely on the courts alone to ensure marriage equality becomes a reality," he said. Judge Walker's decision points to the work "we as a faith community still have to do with those who differ from us. Were it not for religious organizations pouring millions of dollars into the Proposition 8 campaign, I believe we would continue to have marriage equality in California."
An estimated 18,000 same-gender couples married in California from May to November 2008 when gay marriage was legal. Walker on Aug. 4 issued a temporary stay of his ruling until he decides whether or not to put gay marriage on hold throughout the entire appellate process. That decision could still be appealed to the Ninth Circuit and then the Supreme Court separately from the other issues involved.
The battle over gay marriage heated up in February 2004 when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed marriage licenses to be issued to same-gender couples. A month later, the California Supreme Court ordered the licensing halted, pending legal proceedings over rights of gay couples.
In May 2008, the court ruled that same-gender couples have a fundamental right to marry under the state constitution. In November of that year, a majority of California voters adopted Proposition 8, which was upheld by the state Supreme Court.
Proposition 8 supporters vowed Aug. 4 to fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kim Farah, spokeswoman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, believed to have invested heavily financially in passing Proposition 8, called the courts ruling regrettable.
"California voters have twice been given the opportunity to vote on the definition of marriage in their state and both times have determined that marriage should be recognized as only between a man and a woman," she said. "We agree. Marriage between a man and woman is the bedrock of society.
"We recognize that this decision represents only the opening of a vigorous debate in the courts over the rights of the people to define and protect this most fundamental institution -- marriage."
Similarly, the California Catholic Conference (CCC) issued a statement expressing disappointment in Walker's ruling and reaffirming marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
"That the judge should find the marriage -- civilizations' longstanding public policy -- irrational and discriminatory does a great injustice to the institution itself and ultimately will further encourage the disintegration of mother-father families," said Ned Dolejsi, CCC executive director, in a statement to the media.
"Homosexuals certainly have every right to the love, companionship and support of another person -- but the courts do not have a right to distort the meaning of marriage," he said.
He said Proposition 8 proponents will appeal the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals "where the record created in the trial phase will clearly demonstrate that the law, the well-being of society, and the public are on the side of traditional marriage."
Andy Pugno, general counsel for ProtectMarriage.com, official proponents of Proposition 8, said the group intends to appeal the court's decision.
"It is disturbing that the trial court, in order to strike down Prop 8, has literally accused the majority of California voters of having ill and discriminatory intent when casting their votes for Prop 8," Pugno said in a statement to the media.
"We are confident that the trial court record we built will help us ultimately prevail on appeal and reverse today's ruling," he said.