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Pelosi Lauds Federal Court Decision Against Gay Marriage Ban in Calif.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and gay rights organizations cheered Wednesday’s federal court decision that California’s Proposition 8, which bans gays and lesbians from marrying, violated the Constitution. But Congressional proponents of the initiative said the ruling overturns the will of voters.

“I am extremely encouraged by the ruling today. … Proposition 8 has taken away individual rights and freedoms, and is a stain upon the California Constitution,” Pelosi said in a statement. “We must continue to fight against discriminatory marriage amendments and work toward the day when all American families are treated equally.”

Wednesday’s decision by U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker was a major victory for advocates of gay rights, who are looking to the Senate to repeal the military’s ban on gay service members next month as part of the fiscal 2011 defense authorization. The groups have also long sought to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman and denies federal benefits to same-sex spouses.

“This decision is an important step in the right direction, but there’s a lot of work left to do,” said Michael B. Keegan, president of People for the American Way. “We will continue to work toward making America a place where all couples can enjoy the freedom and security of marriage.”

The issue of gay marriage has been prominent in California’s political scene in recent years. The state’s Supreme Court decided in a 4-3 ruling in 2008 to overturn a gay marriage ban. Opponents then won an election ballot initiative, dubbed Proposition 8, in 2009 to ban gay marriages. Proposition 8 was upheld by the California Supreme Court later that year, but Wednesday’s federal court decision ruled that gay couples do have the right to marry. A likely challenge to the federal court decision would go to the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the issue could potentially reach the Supreme Court.

“Most likely this verdict will be appealed and will go to the Supreme Court,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement applauding the ruling. “The journey is not over, but today is a day to celebrate this historic victory for equal marriage rights. This is very good news.”

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, a nonprofit that opposes same-sex marriage, said the California decision challenges laws in 45 other states that define marriage as between a man and a woman.
“Never in the history of America has a federal judge ruled that there is a federal constitutional right to same sex marriage. The reason for this is simple — there isn’t!” he said in a statement.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said in an interview Wednesday that the ruling is “outrageous” and that it is the latest in a series of moves by an “elitist court” to undermine the will of the American public and ultimately the entire judicial system.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, echoed Gingrich’s comments in a statement. “Today’s decision to overturn Proposition 8 defies the will of the people of California and directly contradicts the spirit of democracy that is government by the people and for the people,” he said. “The seven million California voters were not the first in their efforts to protect marriage. Forty-five states in the U.S. have codified their statutory or constitutional law to affirm the legal definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

Smith accused Walker of placing “personal political ideology above the right of the people to pass laws.”

Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.), who chairs the Republican Steering Committee, called it “another attempt to impose a secular immorality on the American people who keep voting to preserve traditional marriage.”

Gay rights advocates argued that Proposition 8 is discriminatory.

“After hearing extensive evidence in support of marriage equality, and essentially no defense of the discrimination wrought by Prop 8, Judge Walker reached the same conclusion we have always known to be true — the Constitution’s protections are for all Americans, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement. HRC is a national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization.

Rick Jacobs, chairman of the nonprofit organization Courage Campaign, called the ruling a “historic milestone for millions of loving families, for all who have fought to realize the dream of equality under the law and for our nation as a whole.”

Jacobs said the decision “concludes the first step in a legal process that could take up to two years,” but called it “a landmark victory in America’s centuries-long war against discrimination.”

Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.

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