Employers and plan administrators in California should continue to watch the pendulum regarding same-sex marriage in the Golden State, which has swung again. A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 on Feb. 8 in Perry v. Brown, Nos. 10-16696, 11-16577, that Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that amended the California constitution to define marriage there as the union of a man and a woman, violates the U.S. Constitution.
Same-sex marriage had been legal in California from June to November 2008, when the State Supreme Court struck down a voter-approved law that forbade it. Voters then approved Proposition 8 in November 2008, a measure that amended the state constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Proposition 8 ended same-sex marriage in California.
Supporters of same-sex marriage in California then turned to the federal courts. On Aug. 4, 2010, Judge Vaughn R. Walker, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, ruled in Perry v. Schwarzenegger that Proposition 8 violates the U.S. Constitution. Supporters of Proposition 8 appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
On Feb. 7, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit ruled in Perry v. Brown, that Proposition 8 violates the U.S. Constitution. The panel said that it violates the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law. The panel said, however, that the ruling applies only in California to the amendment to California’s state constitution; it does not apply to other states.
What This Means
That doesn’t mean that same-sex marriage will become legal in California right away; same-sex marriages will not be allowed immediately. Nor does it mean that the matter is settled before the courts; supporters of Proposition 8 are virtually certain to appeal. One of their options is to ask that the full 11-judge bench of the 9th Circuit hear the case. It is possible that it could eventually end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
So employers and plan administrators in California do not need to change their policies and plan documents yet — but they would be wise to pay close attention to developments in this case so they are ready in case they do.