California Supreme Court strikes down ban on gay marriage

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Friday, May 16, 2008

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The Supreme Court of California in a 4–3 decision has struck down California’s ban on gay marriage. The decision struck down two laws, one from 1977 and another more recent one due to a referendum in 2000. Prior to this case, California allowed extensive benefits to gay couples that were in practice close to those given to heterosexual couples.

The Court’s headquarters in San Francisco, California, which it shares with the Court of Appeal for the First District.
Image: Coolcaesar.

The case in question consisted of a consolidation of six cases being appealed. Parties included a variety of gay couples and the city of San Francisco which wanted to recognize gay couples.

The opinion, written by Chief Justice Ronald M. George, stated that that there was no legitimate basis to discriminate based on sexual preference. Moreover, the court found that the laws were unconstitutional given the protections of the California Constitution. The opinion was also signed by Justices, Kathryn Werdegar, and Carlos Moreno and Justice Joyce Kennard who also wrote an additional concurrence. Justice Marvin Baxter wrote dissent also signed by Justice Ming Chin. Finally, Justice Carol Corrigan wrote a dissent saying that although she personally favored gay marriage the people of California clearly had not and the popular will should not be overruled by the court.

Supporters of gay marriage said the ruling was a milestone. “This decision will give Americans the lived experience that ending exclusion from marriage helps families and harms no one,” said Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, who noted that same-sex marriages are now legal in South Africa, Canada, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands.

James Dobson, head of the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family called the ruling an outrage and called on the people of California to pass a constitutional amendment barring gay marriage saying that “Only then can they protect themselves from this latest example of judicial tyranny.”

Cquote1.svg This decision will give Americans the lived experience that ending exclusion from marriage helps families and harms no one. Cquote2.svg

—Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry

Edward Zelinsky of Yeshiva University, whose work was cited in the brief of California’s attorney general supporting the law, characterized the court’s opinion as “problematic in important respects.” He criticized the court for failing to explain adequately why its logic does not apply to other non-traditional forms of marriage such as polygamy.

Since the decision is based upon the California Constitution, it cannot be appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Currently in the United States different states have taken different positions. Although a variety of states allow civil unions, at present only Massachusetts has legalized gay marriage. State courts have disagreed as to whether gay couples should be treated like heterosexual couples.


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