The California Supreme Court has just issued its ruling on the case against California Prop 8 (which was passed in the November election here in California that amended the State constitution to ban same-sex marriage) and decided that Prop 8 is valid, same-sex marriage will remain illegal in the State of California. The only glimmer of good news from today’s ruling is that the court also ruled that the approximately 18,000 same-sex couples who were wed last year when the practice was legal will still be legally married:
The California Supreme Court today upheld Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage but also ruled that gay couples who wed before the election will continue to be married under state law. The decision virtually ensures another fight at the ballot box over marriage rights for gays. Gay rights activists say they may ask voters to repeal the marriage ban as early as next year, and opponents have pledged to fight any such effort. Proposition 8 passed with 52% of the vote. Although the court split 6-1 on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the justices were unanimous in deciding to keep intact the marriages of as many as 18,000 gay couples who exchanged vows before the election. The marriages began last June, after a 4-3 state high court ruling striking down the marriage ban last May. In an opinion written by Chief Justice Ronald M. George, the state high court ruled today that the November initiative was not an illegal constitutional revision, as gay rights lawyers contended, nor unconstitutional because it took away an inalienable right, as Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown argued. Only Justice Carlos R. Moreno, the court’s sole Democrat, wanted Proposition 8 struck down as an illegal constitutional revision. Justice Joyce L. Kennard, who voted with the majority last year to give gays marriage rights, joined George and the court’s four other justices in voting to uphold Proposition 8. The case for overturning the initiative was widely viewed as a long shot. Gay rights lawyers had no solid legal precedent on their side, and some of the court’s earlier holdings on constitutional revisions mildly undercut their arguments. But gay marriage advocates captured a wide array of support in the case, with civil rights groups, legal scholars and even some churches urging the court to overturn the measure. Supporters of the measure included many churches and religious organizations. Before last fall, California was one of only two states — the other was Massachusetts — to permit same-sex marriage. Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine have since legalized it, and lawmakers in New York, New Jersey and New Hampshire are considering bills of their own. California’s historic 2008 ruling, written by George, repeatedly invoked the words “respect and dignity” and framed the marriage question as one that deeply affected not just couples but also their children. California has more than 100,000 households headed by gay couples, about a quarter with children, according to 2000 census data. As soon as the ruling was final, thousands of gay couples showed up at city halls around the state to marry, and many flew in from elsewhere for California weddings. While the wedding business was brisk, opponents mounted a heated campaign with the help of churches and conservatives to overturn the court’s action. Even with the court upholding Proposition 8, a key portion of the court’s May 15, 2008, decision remains intact. Sexual orientation will continue to receive the strongest constitutional protection possible when California courts consider cases of alleged discrimination. The California Supreme Court is the only state high court in the nation to have elevated sexual orientation to the status of race and gender in weighing discrimination claims.
While very upsetting, this news is unsurprising. It was widely expected that the court would uphold Prop 8 and still validate the same-sex marriages that took place here in California when the practice was legal. The next step for same-sex marriage supporters is to put the measure back on the ballot (as early as next year) to amend the State constitution again. It is very clear that California is deeply divided on this issue … the clash of conservatives and liberals is very marked in this State. Altho I was pretty sure I knew what the ruling would be, I’m still very saddened by the outcome. It does hearten me that there are beacons of hope for true freedom in this country shining from the great states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and Maine. The fight for marriage equality still has a long way to go … but we will get there one day. Of that, I have no doubt.