Raising the Roof at City Hall

The California supreme court ruled Thursday that lesbian and gay couples are entitled to the right to marry in California. San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom joined gay activists and litigators for a victory celebration in the city where it all began.



The marriages that took place in San Francisco in 2004 will not be recognized by the court’s current decision. “Those marriages remain a historic civil rights moment,” said Therese Stewart, chief deputy city attorney of San Francisco, who argued the case before the court on behalf of the City and County of San Francisco. “And if those couples do decide to marry again, their marriage will take effect from the day their new marriage license is issued.”

When gay men and lesbians can actually begin to start marrying has not yet been determined. As NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, who argued the case before the court, explained, “The Supreme Court has directed the lower court to take action on its decision. When the marriages can happen is a practical matter, as the court will need to create a mechanism for this to occur.” But, Minter added, he expects it to happen “very shortly.”

The court’s decision also means that same-sex couples who were married in Massachusetts, Canada, or any other countries that allow same-sex marriage would have their marriages recognized in California.

Gay rights advocates repeatedly underscored the bravery the court showed in its decision. “In an era when courts are under attack,” said Stewart, “our court has remained true to its history. This took a lot of courage, and the court is going to be criticized by some for this decision.”

As they celebrated their victory, gay rights leaders also acknowledged that the fight is not yet over. Conservative organizations in California have submitted signatures to put an initiative on the November ballot to change the state Constitution so that it explicitly bans same-sex marriage. Because it is a constitutional amendment, passage of this initiative would, theoretically, trump today’s court ruling. However, in a conference call with reporters, both Minter and Stewart said it was not yet clear what would happen if that initiative passes.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who announced that “he respects the Court’s decision” and “will uphold its ruling,” also said that he “will not support an amendment to the constitution that would overturn the Supreme Court ruling.”

“It would be a profound setback if it was successful,” Newsom told The Advocate. “It would also be pretty damning that Californians would allow the state to write discrimination into the constitution after this court decision. I just think California is a better state than that.”

Besides, said Newsom, who was glued to his television this morning to hear the court’s decision, we’ve got momentum on our side. “With this decision comes a new reality and it will be advanced, we hope, in 60 days with tens of thousand of couples getting married in between now and November,” he said. “They will be people’s brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and parents and kids. It’s going to be the guy who runs the corner store, the young lady who owns the restaurant down the block, the person serving coffee or dropping off the mail. There will be police officers and fire fighters and friends and neighbors. And then after they experience that joy all around them, people will be asked in November to take all of that away, to say to all of those families that you just don't matter and what you have can be taken away.”

He added that he’s confident California voters won’t do that. “With this ruling, it’s now different,” he said. “Before, they weren't taking anything away. They were just continuing to deny. But now they are going to be taking away a right, and that's different than what’s in the voter pamphlet right now.

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