Decision by State’s High Court ‘Has Affirmed Our Constitution’s Promise of Equality for Millions of Californians and Their Families’
SAN FRANCISCO (May 15, 2008) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera today applauded a 4 to 3 majority opinion by the California Supreme Court that struck down as unconstitutional state marriage laws that discriminate against gay and lesbian couples. The ruling concludes a four-year legal effort by the City and County of San Francisco, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and other organizations representing lesbian and gay partners statewide to invalidate Family Code provisions that deny marriage rights to same-sex couples for violating the California Constitution’s equal protection guarantees.
“I am profoundly grateful, not only for a decision that will end marriage discrimination for gay and lesbian partners in California, but for the Court’s eloquence in stating its conclusion,” said Herrera. “Our democratic system was founded on the notion that the courts should not be swayed by public opinion when it comes to protecting our most cherished rights. I’m proud that our state’s highest court has taken its role seriously. Today’s majority has affirmed our Constitution’s promise of equality for millions of Californians and their families.”
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. 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 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 under court rules governing complex litigation before San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard A. Kramer.
On March 14, 2005, Judge Kramer ruled that laws restricting marriage rights to opposite-sex couples violate equal protection guarantees in 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. On Oct. 5, 2006, a 2-to-1 majority of the appellate panel upheld the constitutionality of discriminatory marriage laws, finding that “Everyone has a fundamental right to ‘marriage,’ but, because of how this institution has been defined, this means only that everyone has a fundamental right to enter a public union with an opposite-sex partner.”
The California Supreme Court granted review in the case on Dec. 20, 2006, and after extensive briefing heard oral arguments in the case on March 4, 2008.
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 City’s case, which was coordinated with several others, is among those In re Marriage Cases, California Supreme Court, No. S147999.