Wednesday, June 4, 2008

State high court refuses to put same-sex ruling on hold

Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Click here for the on-line San Francisco Chronicle article

(06-04) 12:42 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- The California Supreme Court refused today to put its ruling allowing same-sex marriages on hold until the issue goes before state voters in November, clearing the way for gay and lesbian weddings to begin June 17.

The justices' unanimous vote to deny a stay sought by two conservative organizations will allow thousands of same-sex couples, from California and other states, to marry before the Nov. 4 vote on a state constitutional amendment that would overturn the ruling. If the amendment passes, the court will have to decide whether those marriage are valid.

In a separate vote today, the court denied reconsideration of its 4-3 decision May 15 that struck down the law limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples. That law was passed by the Legislature in 1977 and reaffirmed by the voters in a 2000 ballot measure.

The vote on the rehearing was also 4-3, with Chief Justice Ronald George, author of last month's ruling, joined by Justices Joyce Kennard, Kathryn Mickle Werdegar and Carlos Moreno in reaffirming the decision. Justices Marvin Baxter, Ming Chin and Carol Corrigan, who dissented from the ruling, voted for reconsideration.

The court's action could affect the November vote. In Massachusetts, the only other state to legalize same-sex marriages, opinion polls showed public acceptance of those marriages increasing over time as the previously prohibited unions became more commonplace.

"People will see their friends, neighbors and co-workers engaging in this very cherished ritual, and I believe it will continue to push the California voting public in the direction of assuring that the Constitution does not treat people differently," said Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which represented same-sex couples who filed suit challenging the marriage law.

Mathew Staver, legal director of Liberty Counsel and lawyer for the Campaign for California Families, who argued in support of the ban on same-sex marriage, said the court's action today "reveals the political agenda of a handful of judges."

"I don't believe at the end of the day the people will allow four judges to rewrite marriage," Staver said. "If any same-sex marriage licenses are issued before November, the passage of the constitutional amendment will make them invalid and invisible."

Some legal analysts have maintained, however, that couples who marry in reliance on the court's decision will obtain rights that the voters cannot revoke.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who represented the city in a separate suit challenging the marriage law, said the request to suspend the ruling until November was an attempt to "politicize our judiciary." It would have been unprecedented, he added, to "postpone constitutional rights based on speculation" of the outcome of a future election.

In requesting a stay, the Campaign for California Families and the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund argued that the prospect of same-sex marriages between June and November would cause legal complications and confusion that the court could avoid by suspending its decision until the election.

They were joined by the attorneys general of 12 states, all Republicans, who said a stay might spare them from litigation over the status of marriages involving residents of their states who wed in California and returned home.

However, state Attorney General Jerry Brown's office, which defended California's marriage law before the Supreme Court, had urged the justices to allow their ruling to become law as scheduled.

The case is titled In re Marriage Cases, S147999.