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California Supreme Court Legalizes Gay Marriage

published May 16, 2008

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The court issued a 172-page-long opinion that, when boiled down to its essence, concluded:
We...conclude that in view of the substance and significance of the fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship, the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples.
The background: in 2000 California voted to uphold a 1977 law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. This was not a constitutional amendment. In February of 2004 San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to disobey that law and went ahead and married a few same-sex couples. This was halted a month later by the state supreme court, which ruled that Newsom didn't have the authority to overrule a state law (gee, imagine that). The validity of the law was not challenged, though.

In 2005 a superior court judge in San Francisco said the law was unconstitutional, the state appeals court reversed him, and on May 15, 2008, the state supreme court reversed the appeals court.

Here's the basic line of thought: the court holds that because sexual orientation is (1) immutable, (2) unrelated to one's ability to function in society, and (3) a target of prejudice, it should be treated as a "suspect classification" for purposes of the state constitution's equal protection clause.

Under the suspect classification standard, the state needs a compelling reason to discriminate, which it couldn't provide. Ergo, the will of the voters was struck down. Each of the three factors listed above will probably be challenged.

And that's likely the next step: since the court decided on California state constitutional grounds, the US Supreme Court won't get this case. But the state constitution can be amended easily by the voters, and there is already a referendum close to being put on the ballot to amend the state constitution and define marriage as between a man and a woman. That would overturn this verdict, and with this ruling it is certain that that ballot initiative will be voted on.

Expect this to be a bitter fight!

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