The state Supreme Court upholds marriage inequality, but allows 18,000 GLBT California couples to remain married
Judging by the California Supreme Court’s decision upholding Proposition 8 earlier this week, the court is as conflicted as the state’s voters when it comes to the issue of marriage equality.
The Court issued a 6-1 decision upholding the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages. But at the same time, it unanimously affirmed the legality of the 18,000 marriages performed between its groundbreaking decision on marriage equality last spring and Prop. 8’s passage last November. The court also affirmed its original ruling that that gays and lesbians constitute a “suspect class,” similar to race or gender, and as such, deserve special scrutiny when civil rights are threatened.
The latest ruling creates more questions than it answers. For instance, will same-sex marriages in other states or countries during the period when marriage equality was legal in California be recognized by the state? Doesn’t it also create a special class of citizens within the state—the 18,000 gays and lesbians whose marriages have been upheld?
The answers to such questions will require more lawsuits, according to Courtney Joslin, a professor of law at UC Davis who specializes in GLBT family law. For instance, she notes “the court specifically refused to answer the question” whether same-sex marriages conducted in other jurisdictions when same sex-marriage was legal in California are valid. “It will have to be litigated,” Joslin told SN&R.
The decision also guarantees that marriage equality will be revisited by the Legislature and by voters. The issue is far from over.
Local GLBT activists, who gathered at Head Hunter’s lounge in Midtown to hear the decision, responded to the ruling with both tears and defiance. In the past year, they’ve celebrated the original marriage-equality ruling, only to see the right stripped away by Prop. 8, which was heavily funded by religious conservatives and has now been at least partly validated by the court.
Most reactions to the decision were subdued. The ruling wasn’t unexpected, although recent victories, especially the unanimous decision in favor of marriage equality by the Iowa Supreme Court, had raised some hope that Prop. 8 might be overturned.
“How did California become less progressive than Iowa?” asked Kim Coleman-Berger, who married last summer. “And it’s not like this is just about us.”
Her wife, Jen Berger-Coleman, agreed. “The point is that we’d be enraged if anyone lost their constitutional rights. Everyone ought to be concerned if the Supreme Court thinks some Californians can take away rights from others.”
Tina Reynolds, one of the founders of Equality Action Now, a group that has mobilized the local response to Prop. 8, referenced the pop group Chumbawamba: “We get knocked down, but we get up again. They’re never gonna keep us down!”
Plans are already underway for more activism, including efforts to place the repeal of Prop. 8 on the 2010 ballot. Reynolds is clear that the goal of complete civil equality is within reach. “We’re going to achieve marriage equality. We’re going to change ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Care’” she told the group of about 150. “Full equality is our right, and it is within reach.”
Reynolds speech produced some cheers. But a number of people were crying.