On March 14, 2005, San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer ruled that withholding marriage licenses from gay and lesbian couples was unconstitutional. This decision paves the way for California to become the second state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.
In his decision, Judge Kramer wrote, "it appears that no rational purpose exists for limiting marriage in this state to opposite-sex partners." 1 He stated, "simply put, same-sex marriage cannot be prohibited solely because California has always done so before."2 In his decision, Kramer cited the 1948 state Supreme Court decision that made California the first state in the nation to legalize interracial marriage. He also cited the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education and wrote, "the idea that marriage-like rights without marriage is adequate smacks of a concept long rejected by the courts: separate but equal." 3
The judge's ruling overturns "Proposition 22" which was passed by California voters in 2000 and states that " only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California ." 4 The judge's ruling did not take effect for 60 days, and several conservative groups planned to appeal the ruling when it became final on March 30. The case will most likely land in the California Supreme Court.
Conservative groups, angered by the ruling, are using this as an opportunity to promote a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage which would take the matter out of judges' hands. "This decision will be gasoline on the fire of the pro-marriage movement in California as well as the rest of the country," said Mathew Staver, the President of the Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal group based in Florida . 5 Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, Chairman of Traditional Values Coalition, one of the conservative groups leading the fight for a state constitutional amendment, stated, " the decision issued by Judge Richard Kramer striking the voter-approved 'Proposition 22' and allowing homosexual marriages is yet another example of judicial tyranny and makes it clearer than ever that California needs a constitutional amendment to protect marriage as a union of one man and one woman." 6 California 's Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, however, recently said though he does not support same-sex marriage, he would not support amending the state constitution on this issue.
Many groups were excited by the ruling and believe it is taking the state and the country one step closer to true equality for all people. Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which brought one of the lawsuits, said, "couples who have made a commitment in life deserve the legal commitment to match. This historic ruling affirms the state constitution's promise of equality and fairness for all people. The court recognized that when the government denies lesbians and gay men the right to marry, it is treating them unequally." 7 Many groups also believe that the public's opinion on the issue has changed since the passage of "Proposition 22" five years ago and that a state constitutional amendment would not pass. "This is a very different time," said Geoffrey Kors, the executive director of Equality California, the state's largest gay rights advocacy group, "with 'Proposition 22,' we were voting on something that didn't exist and wasn't real to people. Today, everyone has an opinion on the subject." 8
Supporters of the ruling also pointed out that Kramer is not a "liberal activist" judge as some groups accuse, but was appointed to the bench by Republican Governor Pete Wilson in 1996.
The debate over marriage equality has been raging across the country for a number of years. Currently, marriage between same-sex individuals is legal only in the state of Massachusetts based on a 2003 state Supreme Court ruling that said that it was unconstitutional to deny gay couples the right to marry. A number of other states have had lower court rulings on same-sex marriage in the past few years and appeals are currently in process in those states.
As the battle over the judge's decision in California begins, it remains to be seen whether California will join Massachusetts in granting equal rights for marriage to all people, regardless of sexual orientation. Still, many people see the judge's decision as a cause for hope. The fifteen-year-old daughter of one of the plaintiffs in the case explained, "I am so happy that my parents can finally get married. My parents have been together for over 30 years. They have been together so long they can practically read each others' minds. It is only right they should be able to get married." 9
To view the court decision, go to: http://www.sftc.org/Docs/marriage.pdf
1 Lisa Leff, "Judge Finds California's Marriage Law Unconstitutional," San Francisco Gate (CA), 14 March 2005.
2 Associated Press, "Court Upholds California Gay Marriage," News 8 Austin , 15 March 2005, accessed 5 April 2005, < http://news8austin.com/content/headlines/?ArID=133142&SecID=2>; Bob Roehr, "California Court Strikes Down Marriage Ban," Windy City Times , 16 March 2005, accessed 5 April 2005, < http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/
4 State of California , "Proposition 22", accessed 5 April 2005, < http://news.findlaw.com/hdocs/docs/glrts/calprop22.html >.
5 Lisa Leff, "Judge's Gay Marriage Ruling Foreshadows Constitutional Fight in California ," Billings Gazette (WY), 15 March 2005, accessed 5 April 2005, < http://www.billingsgazette.com/index.php?id=1&
6 Traditional Values Coalition, "CA: TVC Chairman Louis Sheldon Condemns Ruling Sanctioning Homosexual Marriages," Press Release published on 14 March 2005, accessed 17 March 2005, < http://www.traditionalvalues.org/print.php?sid=2182 >,.
8 Lisa Leff, "Judge's Gay Marriage Ruling Poises Calif for Constitutional Fight," San Diego Union-Tribune (CA), 16 March 2005, accessed 5 April 2005, <http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/state/20050316-0013-ca-gaymarriage.html>.
9 Mark Worrall, "California Gay Marriage Ban Illegal Judge Rules," 365gay.com , 14 March 2005, accessed 5 April 2005, < http://www.365gay.com/newscon05/03/031405CalMarr.htm>.