The California Supreme Court, in a historic decision, has abolished the ban on same sex marriage. The court, in a 4-3 ruling, ruled that being gay (homosexual) does not constitute a valid reason for denying the benefits of marriage. California, known for being on the cusp of equality with its abolishment of laws against interracial marriage in 1948, is once again on the frontlines in the national same sex marriage debate.
Gavin Newsom, the San Francisco Mayor who in 2004 issued marriage licenses to same sex couples knowingly against the law, was quoted as saying after the announcement of the decision “It's a throwaway line, but I think it's true: As California goes, so goes the rest of the nation". In response to the possibilities of people's outrage and negative reaction to the decision, he added, “...I don't think people should be paranoid about that. ... Look what happened in Massachusetts a number of years ago. Massachusetts is doing just fine. The state is doing wonderfully."
With this decision, California became the second state to have their Supreme Court overturn marriage bans based on sexual orientation. While Massachusetts is currently the only state to allow gay marriage, California’s repeal becomes effective 30 days from the date of the decision. The California legislature over the last two years has passed laws affirming gay marriage, and both were vetoed by the current Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger who stated that the decision should not be legislated, and should be left up to the people.
In 2000, the people of California passed Proposition 22, which created a Domestic Partner law (and banned same-sex marriage) that granted most of the same legal rights to same sex couples as opposite sex couples who could legally marry, which is also known as “traditional” marriage. Proposition 22 (Prop 22) prevented California from recognizing same-sex marriages and was approved by an overwhelming 61.4% of the voters.
Proponents of same-sex marriage have vowed to fight by getting a constitutional ban on gay marriage on the ballot for the general election this fall. In response to possibilities of a constitutional amendment, the Governor said,”I respect the court's decision and as governor, I will uphold its ruling." Schwarzenegger also said, “…as I have said in the past, I will not support an amendment to the constitution that would overturn this state Supreme Court ruling." The ruling also surprised legal experts due to the fact that the court is known for being conservative. Six of its seven judges are Republican appointees and with the 4-3 decision, at least 3 of them crossed the “conservative line” and voted in favor of the repeal.
This decision will have obvious national ramifications. With Massachusetts the only other state to allow gay marriage, and New Hampshire, Vermont, New Jersey and Connecticut permitting civil unions, there are many state battles on the horizon. Marriage equality proponents will have an uphill battle, but with 6 wins under their belts and California’s litmus test decision, their battle might get a little easier.
Hat’s off to California for taking the next step towards equality and dignity under the law!
Jason P. Ruel
Gay Lesbian Editor