California Supreme Court upholds same-sex marriage ban; lets stand existing gay unions
The California Supreme Court today upheld Proposition 8, the voter-approved law restoring a ban on same-sex marriages in the state, but at the same time left intact the more than 18,000 marriages for gay and lesbian couples who wed last year before the ballot measure went into effect.
The Supreme Court's decision puts California in unusual territory for the time being, establishing a two-tiered system of marriage across the state for same-sex couples. Under the ruling, Proposition 8 will continue to outlaw same-sex marriage in the future, but those gay and lesbian couples who got their marriage licenses before last November's election will remain on equal legal footing with heterosexual couples.
The 6-1 decision to uphold Prop 8 was widely expected by legal experts, as it was considered unlikely the justices would have the legal authority to overturn a voter-approved amendment to the California constitution. Only Justice Carlos Moreno voted to strike down Prop 8.
The ruling is likely to shift the battleground over gay marriage back to the political arena, as gay rights advocates already are mobilizing to push another ballot measure to erase Prop 8, approved by voters by a 52 to 48 percent margin.
Civil rights groups are hopeful they can duplicate the political momentum they've gain on the East Coast, where a number of states have moved in recent months to legalize gay marriage.
For the state Supreme Court, today's ruling rested on ery different issues than what the justices considered last May, when they overturned California's previous ban on gay marriage in a historic ruling that rocked the state and sent thousands of same-sex couples scrambling to the altar. In that 4-3 decision, the court concluded that a ballot measure and family law statute outlawing same-sex marriage violated the California constitution's equal protection guarantees for gays and lesbians by depriving them of the equal right to marry.
But Prop 8 altered the legal debate because it actually amended the state constitution itself, the ultimate trump card against Supreme Court intervention.
A number of local governments, including San Francisco and Santa Clara County, challenged the measure, along with civil rights groups and same-sex couples seeking the right to marry. The central argument was that Prop 8 amounted to an improper method of amending the California constitution, and that it unfairly targeted a minority group by taking away the right to marry.
Attorney General Jerry Brown went further, arguing that Prop 8 should be invalidated because it conflicted directly with last year's state Supreme Court ruling finding a gay marriage ban unconstitutional.
Prop 8 supporters defended the law, arguing that the Supreme Court should not tamper with a voter-approved amendment to the constitution. Kenneth Starr, the former Whitewater special prosecutor and now dean of Pepperdine University law school, led the defense of the ballot measure in court.