Harvard Students and Professors Split Over Prop 8

A California federal appeals court declared a law that bans same-sex marriages unconstitutional on Tuesday, a decision that received mixed reactions on Harvard’s campus.

In a 2 to 1 ruling, the divided court upheld the 2010 decision of a lower court that Proposition 8 violated the equal protection rights of same-sex couples.

In the opinion from Tuesday’s ruling, Ninth Circuit Judge Stephen R. Reinhardt wrote that Proposition 8 serves no purpose “other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California.”

The ruling is limited to California in scope, and legal scholars—including professors at Harvard Law School—are debating whether the U.S. Supreme Court will review the case and set a national precedent.

“The narrowness of the ruling and its deliberate focus on the quite unique California context...makes it somewhat less likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will take the case,” Law School professor Laurence H. Tribe ’62 wrote in an e-mail.

In contrast, Law School professor Mark V. Tushnet ’67 said he believes the Supreme Court will find the case important enough to evaluate.

“The Court of Appeals framed it in a way that the decision was California-specific, but it would be possible to use the case as a vehicle for addressing the gay marriage case more generally,” said Tushnet.

In the student community, opinions were similarly divided.

According to Laura V. Herrera ’13, co-chair of the organization Gay, Lesbian, or Whatever, this accomplishment represents a step forward for the gay and lesbian community, but lingering concerns remain.

“I’m hoping this will set up in the final push for gay marriage rights for the country and worldwide,” Herrera said. “But I have to put this into the perspective of what this means for social change more broadly.”

But the law does not resonate well with everyone. True Love Revolution member Jim P. McGlone ’15 said he thinks the court made the wrong decision.

“I don’t think there’s a constitutional statute that necessarily requires states to define marriage,” McGlone said. “And I hope the Supreme Court overturns the Ninth Circuit’s decision soon.”

Duc P. Luu ’12 said he agrees with the court’s ruling but expressed misgivings about the basis of the federal appeals court’s decision.

“I think the court needed a more ethical and moral reasoning beyond merely saying singling out a group of people is unconstitutional,” Luu said.

“You have to address what are the ends, what does marriage really mean, and what is it about marriage that is worth preserving.”

—Staff writer Melanie A. Guzman can be reached at melanieguzman@college.harvard.edu.

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