Thoughts About A Court Decision

Everyone today is likely to be upset with the California Supreme Court. Folks will be saying they are ashamed to be Californians. I’m not, and let me explain why… but first I would like to point out that I believe the state should not be in the marriage business, but there should be a secular recognized family partnership equivalent, open to any form of couples, and perhaps even larger partnerships. Let the religious institutions deal with marriage.

Reading the LA Times history on what happened is telling:

  • 2004: Mayor Gavin Newsom in San Francisco spurns state law, and the city began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.
  • Those gay couples who wed in San Francisco have their marriages later rescinded by the California Supreme Court, which ruled that a city could not single-handedly flout state law. But the court said supporters of marriage rights could challenge the ban in the lower courts.
  • In the San Francisco Superior Court, a judge struck down the marriage ban as unconstitutional.
  • A Court of Appeal in San Francisco later overturned that decision on a 2-1 vote.
  • The state high court eventually took up the case, which culminated in a May 15 ruling last year declaring gays could marry each other.
  • California voters, by vote, change the constitution to prohibit gay marriage.
  • Today, the State Supreme Court ruled that the process followed in the vote was a legal constitutional change. They didn’t rule on gay marriage itself, only on the voting process used.

So, what really happened here. The State Supreme Court interpreted the constitution to permit gay marriage. Sufficient voters in the state changed the constitution to prevent it, and the supreme court ruled the process valid per the law. That means in order to achieve equal marriage rights, either the state constitution needs to be changed again, or the Federal courts need to get involved, bringing in Federal law to trump state law. I’m sure there will be an initiative effort, and I hope it succeeds. The LA Times provides some interesting detail on what today’s ruling actually said.

So, am I ashamed to be a Californian? No. We have followed the legal process and given the sides consideration. We voted, and equal marriage lost. That happens in a democracy. Remember the words to “We Shall Overcome”: it may take time, but we will eventually succeed.

In fact, far from being ashamed, I’m proud to be a Californian. The LA Times article notes:

“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.”

This is very significant. We’re the only state to consider sexual orientation in this way, and as we eliminate discrimination and bring equality about in other areas, marriage will follow. Just give it time, and keep fighting.