California Allows Same-Sex Marriage

by Rene Villaroman/

SAN FRANCISCO – The California Supreme Court ruled out on Thursday, May 15, that same-sex couples should be permitted to marry, rejecting State marriage laws as discriminatory. California has followed the State of Massachusetts as the second state in the nation to allow same-sex marriage.

The SC Justices, voting 4-3, in a decision penned by Chief Justice Ronald M. George, ruled that “excluding access to the designation of marriage to same-sex couples will not deprive any opposite-sex couples or their children of any of the rights and benefits conferred by marriage statutes. That will simply make the benefits of the marriage designation available to same-sex couples and their children.”

“The exclusion of the same-sex couples in the designation of marriage works a real and appreciable harm upon same-sex couples and their children,” the Justices wrote. “No one is hurt by allowing same-sex couples to marry; instead same-sex couples and their children will be getting the same benefits that everybody else enjoys in the state. No more, no less.”

Fairness and Equality

“Today, our Supreme Court has acted in accordance with the great California traditions of fairness and equality, of live and let live. The California Supreme Court had the integrity and the courage to do its job and say that all Californians are entitled to equal protection of the law,” said Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Center in Hollywood. “All but one was appointed by Republican governors. And today, that moderate court did exactly what it is supposed to do.”

“It’s been four hard years, but with persistence, strategic thinking, and fearless determination, we’ve succeeded,” said Jon Davidson, legal director of Lambda Legal, and co-counsel on this case. He thanked the support that he received from more than 500 groups from the state of California “who submitted briefs to the court, asking them to uphold the freedom to marry, including the NAACP, MALDEF and APALC.”

“Today’s a historic day. I think future generations will look back to today’s decision as a landmark decision for fairness and equality,” Davidson added.

Long overdue

The long-awaited court decision stemmed from the city of San Francisco’s highly publicized same-sex weddings, which in 2004 helped spur a conservative backlash in a presidential election year and a national dialogue over gay rights. After a month of jubilant same-sex weddings in San Francisco, the California Supreme Court intervened and ordered city officials to stop issuing licenses to gay couples, and later invalidated the documents and declined to address the constitutionality of a state ban on same-sex marriage until lower courts acted first.

Last September, a broad coalition of over 60 local, state, and national Asian American organizations filed a groundbreaking amicus (friend of the court) brief in support of the plaintiffs in the Marriage Cases, a case before the California SC challenging the state’s marriage statute. The Asian American organizations sought to support basic fairness for same-sex couples and their families, drawing from parallel discriminatory efforts targeting the Asian American community, including past struggle of Asian Americans with marriage discrimination in California.

“We are thrilled by today’s landmark victory. Now our fight will be to preserve this win in November, where there will likely be an initiative to overturn this breakthrough,” said Karin Wang, API Equality-LA steering committee member and vice president of programs at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC).

“I am truly excited that a Filipino can marry other gay people,” opined Noel Alumit, 40, a FilAm community organizer with the Make Arts/Stop AIDS at University of California, Los Angeles.

“This is an incredible right that the Philippines could not have. That is why my family is here. My family brought us here so that we could follow our dreams,” Alumit added.

Proud Californian

“Today, I couldn’t be prouder to be a Californian,” said Mayor Villaraigosa at a press conference held at the Gay & Lesbian Center in Hollywood, a couple of hours after the ruling came down. “I couldn’t be prouder of the California Supreme Court – whose shift 60 years ago, in a landmark decision – ruled that you couldn’t discriminate on marriage based on race. We are now leading the way once again, and here in California same-sex couples can marry; that it’s a fundamental right of liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Not yet over

The ruling is not likely to end the debate over gay marriage in California. Even before the ruling was handed down, conservative groups have been circulating petitions to put an initiative in the November 2008 elections that would seek to amend California’s Constitution to block same-sex marriage. Before Thursday’s ruling, gay rights lawyers predicted that a victory in the California Supreme Court would help them defeat the proposed constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, which the lawyers predicted could qualify for the November ballot. The California Supreme Court has six Republican appointees and one Democrat.

“What is important about this decision is that not only is it historic – what is important is it goes into effect in 30 days, and basically that means that gay people who have been longtime partners who wanted to be married, who haven’t been able to get married, will be able to go out and do it,” said Tori Osborne, senior adviser to LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and former executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Center.

“It looks as if the conservatives are going to call for a marriage ballot initiative in the November (2008) ballot,” Osborne said, “but it would be much harder to the people of California – who are fair-minded and good – to take away this right once they see people actually line up and get married.”


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