Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Court seeks additional info in marriage cases

The California Supreme Court is raising several legal questions regarding the state’s marriage laws as it prepares to hear oral arguments later this year in the same-sex marriage cases now before justices.

The state’s highest court on Wednesday, June 21 asked four questions it wants lawyers involved in the court case to address. The justices said they want to know what are the “current differences” in legal rights between those couples who are married and those who are registered domestic partners, and if the terms “marriage” or “marry” themselves have constitutional significance under the California Constitution.

The court members also signaled they are grappling with whether the codes against gay marriage apply to same-sex marriages that are entered into in another state or country or does the provision also apply to and prohibit same-sex marriages entered into within California. They also asked “what, if any, are the minimum, constitutionally-guaranteed substantive attributes or rights” embodied within a person’s “fundamental constitutional right to marry.”

Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart told the Bay Area Reporter that the court’s order is a positive sign. She said it signals that the justices are seriously looking at what implications will arise out of their decision in the case.

“The court is really thinking hard about the case right now and thinking deeply about it,” said Stewart. “When you think deeply about the case it is hard to come out against it. I am not saying it is a sign of how they will decide. It is impossible to read the tea leaves.”

The court noted that its request does not necessarily signify that its ultimate opinion in the cases will address the points upon which the justices are requesting supplemental briefs. The court gave the attorneys until July 18 to file their responses addressing the four legal questions, and set August 1 as the deadline for replies to each side’s supplemental briefs.

Most of the issues have already been addressed in previous briefs filed with the court, said Stewart. She likened the court’s request to a written version of oral arguments.

“They are wrestling with a number of significant issues related to the case. To me it is a good sign,” said Stewart, who has argued the city’s stance in the court cases. “They are signaling to us don’t neglect this issue and give us a full briefing on it. It might be significant to the case.”

The case, known as In re Marriage Cases, S147999, stems from San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s ordering city officials to marry same-sex couples in February 2004. Anti-gay groups and state officials went to court to end the marriages, which a lower court did in March.

Later that year the state Supreme Court invalidated the marriages that had been performed but did not address the legality of the state’s antigay marriage laws. Instead, they instructed the city to file a new lawsuit before the lower courts.

Six lawsuits eventually were filed and consolidated into one legal case. A San Francisco Superior Court judge in 2005 found the state’s marriage laws unconstitutional, but a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals overturned the ruling in a 2-1 decision last year.

The Supreme Court announced in late 2006 it would hear the case. Oral arguments are not expected until later this year or possibly in early 2008.

— Matthew S. Bajko, June 20, 2007 @ 2:43 pm PST
Filed under: News

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