Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 50 / 14 December 2017
 

Breaking News: CA Supreme
Court rules for gay marriage

NEWS


m.bajko@ebar.com

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George. Photo: Paul Sakuma/AP pool photo
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California's Supreme Court struck down the state's anti-gay marriage laws today, (Thursday, May 15) saying in a divided ruling that same-sex couples have the right to marry.

The justices ruled 4-3 in a decision written by Chief Justice Ronald George that there is no compelling reason to restrict marriage only to heterosexual couples.

"We cannot find that retention of the traditional definition of marriage constitutes a compelling state interest. Accordingly, we conclude that to the extent the current California statutory provisions limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, these statutes are unconstitutional," states the opinion.

Joining George in the majority were Justices Joyce Kennard, Kathryn Werdegar and Carlos Moreno.

The court issued its ruling at 10 a.m., 10 weeks after hearing oral arguments in the historic lawsuit March 4.

Shortly after the court released its ruling, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that he would stand by the court's decision. Schwarzenegger twice before has vetoed gay marriage bills sent to him by the Legislature saying he felt it was up to the courts or the people to decide the issue.

"I respect the court's decision and as governor, I will uphold its ruling. Also, as I have said in the past, I will not support an amendment to the constitution that would overturn this state Supreme Court ruling," said the governor's statement.

State Senator Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) said in a statement: "This is one fine day that believers always knew was coming. ... LGBT people will long herald this moment as an obliteration of old ideas and the birth of a new day of sunshine."

Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who twice saw his same-sex marriage bill passed in the Legislature, applauded the court's decision.

"Today's ruling is a supreme affirmation of the sanctity of the love that two people share with one another without regard to their gender, and a victory for all Californians who believe that people should have the opportunity to pursue their dreams on equal footing," Leno said.

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) also hailed the ruling. "We are delighted with today's state Supreme Court ruling allowing marriage equality in California," she said in a statement. "It is a true testament to advancing equality and to recognizing the right of all Californians to build a future with the person they love."

The case stems from the decision of San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera to sue the state and ask the courts to overturn California's anti-gay marriage laws after the Supreme Court ruled that Mayor Gavin Newsom lacked the authority to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples during the "Winter of Love" in February and March of 2004.

After the state and anti-gay groups sued the city in order to halt the marriages, the Supreme Court ruled against Newsom and declared that the 4,000 marriage licenses San Francisco had handed out were null and void. But it did not rule on the issue of whether gay men and lesbians had a right to marriage; instead the court referred the matter back to the lower courts.

The lower courts issued conflicting rulings on whether state lawmakers had the right in the 1970s to define marriage as the union between a man and a woman. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer ruled March 14, 2005 that the state had no reason to deny marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The decision also found Proposition 22 was unconstitutional. The ballot measure, which voters passed in 2000, defined marriage as only between a man and woman but applied to the state's family code that regulates marriages performed in other states.

A Court of Appeal panel overturned that decision on October 5, 2006. The majority 2-1 appellate ruling said that, "Everyone has a fundamental right to 'marriage,' but, because of how this institution has been defined, this means only that everyone has a fundamental right to enter a public union with an opposite-sex partner."

The appellate court ruling found Prop 22 not to be in violation of the state's constitution. San Francisco officials appealed the court's ruling to the Supreme Court.

Today's decision may end the legal battle in the state's courts, but the issue will likely not be settled until the fall, when it is expected that voters will be asked to approve a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Anti-gay groups pressing the measure turned in more than 1 million signatures to election officials last month and are awaiting word if they gathered enough valid signatures to qualify it for the November general election ballot.

LGBT groups are already at work mounting a campaign to defeat it. They are optimistic California will become the second state to allow same-sex marriage.

In 2004 Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex couples to wed.

Vermont, Connecticut, California, New Jersey and New Hampshire all provide civil unions or domestic partnerships with all the state rights offered to married couples.

Maine, Hawaii, the District of Columbia, Oregon and Washington all offer legal unions with some of the rights afforded to married couples.

The California case is known as In re Marriage Cases, S147999. The opinion is available on the Supreme Court's Web site at: www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/.

LGBT groups will hold a rally at 5 p.m. today at the LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market Street.






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