Tuesday, March 04, 2008

California marriage equality arguments heard before the California Supreme Court

San Francisco – Today Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Therese Stewart with the City of San Francisco argued passionately before the California Supreme Court in favor of same-sex marriage.

“It is a great privilege to be a part of this historic moment for our state and the tens of thousands of same-sex couples who deserve the same fundamental right to marry that most Californians take for granted,” said Minter in a NCLR statement today. “We are hopeful that the California Supreme Court will affirm that lesbian and gay couples are entitled to celebrate their relationships through marriage.”

Minter and Stewart made the case that domestic partnership isn’t equal to marriage and doesn’t uphold California’s Constitutional mandate for equality.

The marriage cases were filed in March, 2004. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard A. Kramer ruled that the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage violates the California Constitution. In a 2-1 vote, the California Court of Appeal reversed Judge Kramer’s ruling. Shortly after the Court of Appeal’s decision, the California Supreme Court granted review of the cases in order to consider the constitutional questions itself.

Counsel representing California Attorney General Jerry Brown and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger argued on behalf of domestic partnerships providing equal rights to that of marriage as well as leaving the definition of “marriage” up to the California legislature.

Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) the lead author of legislation to bring marriage equality to LGBT Californians that was passed twice by the California legislature, but was vetoed both times by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement today that he is “hopeful” that the California Supreme Court will “reaffirm its position from 1948. That year was when it “historically ended its ban on interracial marriage, saying that, ‘marriage is a fundamental right of free men... any legislation infringing such rights must be based upon more than prejudice and must be free from oppressive discrimination to comply with the constitutional requirements of due process and equal protection of the laws.’

“I hope the Supreme Court does the same,” said Leno hoping the California Supreme Court will follow the legislature’s lead. “Their decision in this historic case will no doubt have implications on thousands of same sex couples and their families as well as our society for years to come.”

Del Martin and her partner Phyllis Lyon, the first couple to be married at San Francisco City Hall during the “Winter of Love” and who are petitioners in the case, are hopeful that the court will clear the way for them to get married.

“During our 55 years together, we have witnessed enormous changes in California law concerning lesbian and gay people,” said Martin. “At one time, the law treated us as complete outsiders. Today, the law recognizes our existence, but it does not yet recognize our full humanity and equality. We have loved one another faithfully for more than five decades. We wish to marry before either one of us dies.”

Minter and Stewart were assisted by a team of lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, Heller Ehrman, LLC and the Law Office of David Codell and the other attorneys representing the LGBT community.

2008 marks the 60th anniversary of the California Supreme Court’s historic 1948 ruling that found it unconstitutional for the state to restrict access to marriage based on the race of the spouses. That ruling was the first of its kind in the nation’s history, and is now the law of the land across the country. The California NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc., and Howard Law School Civil Rights Clinic have urged the court to apply the reasoning from its 1948 decision to the present marriage cases.

“California sets the course for the rest of the country,” said Jenny Pizer, Senior Counsel for Lambda Legal. “With its landmark 1948 decision Perez v. Sharp, this was the first state supreme court to overturn a law banning interracial marriages. Less than 20 years later, the U.S. Supreme Court followed suit. The rest of the country and, in fact, the world, are watching what happens here today.”

The marriage cases are among the most heavily briefed cases in the history of the California Supreme Court. More than 20 counties and municipalities filed a friend-of-the court brief in support of marriage for same-sex couples, including some of the most populous cities in California: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, Long Beach, Sacramento, and Oakland. In addition, more than 250 religious and civil rights leaders and organizations, including the California NAACP, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, California Council of Churches, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and National Black Justice Coalition, filed briefs supporting same-sex couples seeking the right to marry. Numerous legal and bar associations, including the Los Angeles County Bar Association, also registered their support, as well as many of the state’s leading constitutional law scholars and family law professors.LGBT Californian’s will know one way or the other The California Supreme Court typically issues its decisions within 90 days following oral arguments.

Catch today’s oral arguments of the In Re Marriage case before the California Supreme Court at

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