Same-sex marriage debate heats up in California
February 24 2004 12:00 AM ET
The same-sex marriages that have drawn nationwide attention are sparking fresh rhetorical battles among California politicians and enthusiastic celebrations among the newlyweds.
On Sunday key elected officials used some of their strongest language yet to discuss whether newly elected San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom overstepped his authority by allowing the gay and lesbian unions, which critics say are against state law. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who wants the state to step in and stop the marriages, said in an interview on NBC on Sunday that Newsom's action could cause other local officials to flout the law. "In San Francisco it is license for marriage of same sex. Maybe the next thing is another city that hands out licenses for assault weapons, and someone else hands out licenses for selling drugs, I mean you can't do that," he said. "We have to stay within the law. There's a state law that says specific things, and if you want to challenge those laws, then you can go to the court."
Newsom, who appeared on CNN's Late Edition, says the city is mounting precisely that kind of legal challenge. San Francisco has sued the state, saying the gay marriage ban violates the equal protection clause of the California constitution.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer, a Democrat who may run against Schwarzenegger in 2006, said he's prepared to defend the state against San Francisco's lawsuit. "What the mayor and others are hoping is that courts will change the policy," he said. "I don't think it's going to happen. I wouldn't expect that result, but I have a healthy regard for their theories even though it is not the law. We are obligated to defend the law, not some wished-for change in policy."
At the same time, an estimated 2,000 people, many of them newly married couples, gathered at a downtown hotel Sunday to celebrate the weddings with a mass reception party. The guests of honor at the event were Del Martin, 83, and Phyllis Lyon, 79, who have been together 51 years and are longtime leaders in the city's lesbian community. Martin and Lyon were married on February 12 in the first ceremony after Newsom's decision. "We're going to be out there as a movement and as a vast, large, noisy movement," Lyon said at Sunday's celebration. "This issue has mobilized us, magnetized us, and energized us."
City officials are changing the process that has resulted in more than 3,000 same-sex marriages this month. Beginning Monday, according to San Francisco officials, couples wishing to get a marriage license will have to make an appointment in advance rather than just walk up to the clerk's office. The change will put an end to a scene that has symbolized the passions surrounding the issue: hundreds of gay and lesbian couples waiting in line, often for hours, to get inside City Hall and get a marriage license. But officials will still be issuing licenses to same-sex couples, and the new procedure hardly means the argument is quieting. Conservative critics have asked the courts to stop the unions, but a judge earlier this month allowed the weddings to continue and gave San Francisco until March 29 to explain its actions in court.