Stage Set for Decisive Showdown on Constitutionality of Discriminatory Marriage Laws in Nation’s Largest State
SAN FRANCISCO (Dec. 20, 2006) — The California Supreme Court today agreed to review an appellate court ruling from October in which the majority, over a strong dissent, upheld as constitutional state marriage laws that discriminate against gay and lesbian couples. In granting review, the state’s highest court has set the stage for what is expected to be the decisive ruling on marriage equality in the nation’s most populous state.
“Marriage equality is the major civil rights issue of our time, and the state’s highest court clearly recognizes it should have the final word on the issue in California,” Herrera said. “In seeking to end this systematic discrimination against gay and lesbian couples, we are not only asserting the rights of equality and privacy uniquely enshrined in our state Constitution. We are also asking the Supreme Court to do what the Court of Appeal did not-to base its decision on Constitutional principles rather than on its impressions of popular opinion.”
Herrera’s direct constitutional challenge to state marriage laws in City and County of San Francisco vs. State of California was filed on March 11, 2004, within an hour of the California Supreme Court’s order prohibiting San Francisco officials from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples at the direction of Mayor Gavin Newsom. The lawsuit made San Francisco the first government entity in American history to challenge the constitutionality of state marriage laws that discriminate against gay and lesbian couples. The City’s case was later consolidated with similar suits 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 San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard A. Kramer.
On March 14, 2005, Judge Kramer ruled that laws restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples violate the due process and equal protection clauses of the California Constitution. Judge Kramer’s 27-page decision 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 appealed Kramer’s decision to the state Court of Appeal, which heard oral arguments in the case on July 10, 2006, and issued its 2-to-1 decision upholding discriminatory marriage laws on Oct. 5, 2006.
Earlier this month, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who is representing the state in his office’s defense of existing state laws that restrict marriage to opposite-gender couples, similarly urged the high court to grant review in the case, citing the importance of “finality and certainty for the citizens of California.”
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.”
The coordinated case before the California Supreme Court is In re: Marriage Cases, Case Number S147999. The City’s case in the Court of Appeal was City and County of San Francisco v. State of California et al. (Court of Appeal Case Number A110449). Private actions comprising the coordinated marriage cases are the following: Tyler et al. v. State of California (Court of Appeal Case Number A110450); Woo et al. v. State of California et al. (Court of Appeal Case Number A110451); Clinton et al. v. State of California et al. (Court of Appeal Case Number A110463); Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund v. City and County of San Francisco (Court of Appeal Case Number A110651); and Campaign for California Families et al. v. Newsom et al. (Court of Appeal Case Number A110652).