California High Court Upholds Gay Marriage Ban

Daily News Article   —   Posted on May 27, 2009

(by Lisa Leff, CNSNews.com) San Francisco (AP) — The California Supreme Court upheld a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage Tuesday, but it also decided that the estimated 18,000 gay couples who tied the knot before the law took effect will stay wed.

The 6-1 decision written by Chief Justice Ron George rejected an argument by gay rights activists that the ban revised the California constitution’s equal protection clause to such a dramatic degree that it first needed the Legislature’s approval.

The court said the people have a right, through the ballot box, to change their constitution.

“In a sense, petitioners’ and the attorney general’s complaint is that it is just too easy to amend the California constitution through the initiative process. But it is not a proper function of this court to curtail that process; we are constitutionally bound to uphold it,” the ruling said.

The announcement of the decision set off an outcry among a sea of demonstrators who had gathered in front of the San Francisco courthouse awaiting the ruling. Holding signs and many waving rainbow flags, they chanted “shame on you.” Many people also held hands in a chain around an intersection in an act of protest.

Gay rights activists immediately promised to resume their fight, saying they would go back to voters as early as next year in a bid to repeal Proposition 8.

The split decision provided some relief for the 18,000 gay couples who married in the brief time same-sex marriage was legal last year but that wasn’t enough to dull the anger over the ruling that banned gay marriage.

“It’s not about whether we get to stay married. Our fight is far from over,” said Jeannie Rizzo, 62, who was one of the lead plaintiffs along with her wife, Polly Cooper. “I have about 20 years left on this earth, and I’m going to continue to fight for equality every day.”

The state Supreme Court had ruled last May that it was unconstitutional to deny gay couples the right to wed. Many same-sex couples had rushed to get married before the November vote on Proposition 8, fearing it could be passed. When it was, gay rights activists went back to the court arguing that the ban was improperly put to voters.

That was the issue justices decided Tuesday.

“After comparing this initiative measure to the many other constitutional changes that have been reviewed and evaluated in numerous prior decisions of this court, we conclude Proposition 8 constitutes a constitutional amendment rather than a constitutional revision,” the ruling said.

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Questions

1. What ruling did the California Supreme Court hand down on Tuesday?

2. On what grounds did gay rights activists bring the lawsuit before the Court?

3. Why did the Court uphold the voter approved ban on gay-marriage? (see para. 4, 11)

4. How did gay rights activists react to the California Court’s ruling?

5. Why do you think the reporter did not include a reaction from the supporters of traditional marriage?

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Background

TRADITIONAL VS. SAME-SEX MARRIAGE IN CALIFORNIA:

  • In 2000, Californians passed by 61% a state ballot initiative (Prop 22) that stated “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
  • In May 2008, the California Supreme Court reversed the will of the people and overturned Prop 22 in a 4-3 vote, thereby legalizeing same-sex marriage.  Although the issue was put on the ballot for November, the Court refused to delay the start of same-sex marriages, thus granting hundreds of same-sex couples permission to marry legally.
  • In November 2008, California voters passed Prop 8, a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, by 52.5%.  The language of Prop 8 reads: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
  • In May 2009, the California Supreme Court upheld Prop 8, concluding that the voter-approved measure that says “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California” is constitutional.  The court also ruled that the approximately 18,000 marriages performed for gay and lesbian couples between May and November 2008 are legally valid and will not be voided.

INITIATIVES AND REFERENDUMS:

  • Anything that appears on a ballot other than a candidate running for office is called a ballot measure.  Ballot measures are broken down into two distinct categories – initiatives (or propositions) and referendums.
  • Initiatives (propositions) – when the citizens, collecting signatures on a petition, place advisory questions, memorials, statutes (laws) or constitutional amendments on the ballot for the citizens to adopt or reject. 
  • Twenty-four states have the initiative process. 
  • In many of the same states the citizens have the referendum process – the ability to reject laws or amendments proposed or already passed by the state legislature.  “Initiatives” refers to newly drafted legislation submitted directly to a popular vote as an alternative to adoption by a state legislature.

NOTE:  The terms above are all forms of “direct democracy” practiced by various states.  Read an explanation of direct democracy at Wikipedia.org

Read about ballot measures (initiatives and referendums) at the Initiative and Referendum website iandrinstitute.org.

Resources

Read reactions to the California Supreme Court ruling at cnsnews.com/public/content/article.aspx?RsrcID=48650.