Herrera Lauds Trial Court Decision Finding Discriminatory Marriage Laws Unconstitutional

Judge Kramer’s Decision ‘Rejects Discrimination and Affirms Family Values for All California Families,’ City Attorney Says

SAN FRANCISCO (March 14, 2005) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera today hailed the trial court ruling sustaining his office’s challenge to the constitutionality of state marriage statutes that discriminate against gay and lesbian couples as “thoughtful, well reasoned and courageous.” San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard A. Kramer ruled that laws restricting marriage rights to opposite-sex couples violate equal protection guarantees in the California Constitution. Trial and appellate courts in other states in the U.S. and in other countries around the world have similarly concluded that laws excluding gay and lesbian couples from marriage violate constitutional principles, but Judge Kramer’s ruling is the first by a California court to address the issue.

“Today’s ruling is an important step toward a fairer, more just California that rejects discrimination and affirms family values for all California families,” Herrera said. “I am extremely pleased not only for gay and lesbian couples in this state, but for the children born into or adopted by such couples, who will now have the same benefits and protections that children in families headed by heterosexuals enjoy. Judge Kramer has delivered a carefully reasoned and thoroughly convincing decision today, and I am optimistic that it will withstand the inevitable appeals.”

In a 27-page decision released this afternoon, Kramer concluded that both sections of the state Family Code that exclude gay and lesbian couples from marriage “are unconstitutional under the California Constitution,” adding that “The idea that marriage-like rights without marriage is adequate smacks of a concept long rejected by the courts: separate but equal.”

The attorney general and conservative anti-gay organizations involved in the litigation are expected to appeal Kramer’s decision to the state Court of Appeal.

Filed within an hour of the California Supreme Court’s March 11, 2004 order prohibiting San Francisco officials from continuing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Herrera’s direct constitutional challenge to state marriage laws in City and County of San Francisco vs. State of California made the City the first government entity in American history to challenge the constitutionality of state marriage laws as they apply to gay and lesbian couples and the first suit by anyone to challenge California’s marriage statutes. The City’s case was later consolidated with a similar suit filed the following day by the National Center for Lesbian Rights on behalf of same-sex couples, Equality California and Our Family Coalition. That consolidated case was then coordinated with other constitutional challenges from Los Angeles and San Francisco before Judge Kramer under court rules governing complex litigation.

Through months of briefing and oral arguments that concluded last January, lawyers for the City proved that the ban against gay and lesbian marriage costs the City and County of San Francisco millions of dollars each year. Forcing San Francisco to discriminate against lesbian and gay couples and families in this manner also offends the City’s longstanding public policies prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination and supporting equal rights and benefits for all families. The City Attorney’s arguments relied on important protections for individual civil rights spelled out in the California Constitution, which render the continued exclusion of gay men and lesbians from marriage unsupportable under any standard of judicial scrutiny.

From the outset, Herrera has said his case “asserts the long-held principle that discrimination is not merely detrimental to the minority it singles out, but to the majority that would abide it,” arguing that “without full recognition of gay and lesbian families through marriage, San Francisco is limited in its ability to protect the equal rights of its citizens, and harmed in ways tangible and otherwise by an injustice that has no place in 21st Century California.”

At a City Hall press conference here later today, Herrera will be joined by National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell to react to the ruling and take questions from members of the news media. Also expected to attend are Mayor Gavin Newsom and other City elected officials along with plaintiff couples in the case handled by NCLR, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Northern California. On hand from the City’s legal team will be Chief Deputy City Attorney Therese M. Stewart and Deputy City Attorneys Sherri Sokeland Kaiser and Kathleen S. Morris as well as Bobbie J. Wilson, representing the City’s pro bono outside counsel from the law firm of Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin.

The case is City and County of San Francisco, v. State of California (Judicial Council Coordination Proceeding No. 4365; San Francisco Superior Court Case No. 429-539, consolidated with case no. 504-038, before the Hon. Richard A. Kramer).