In the most important court decision upholding individual rights since the US Supremes struck down state prohibitions of interracial marriage, the California Supreme Court today banished California’s law against gay marriage.
In a 4-3 decision, the court held that the California law prohibiting gays from marrying denied them equal rights under the California constitution. Chief Justice Ronald M. George wrote the majority opinion, confronted the issue forthrightly and held that the law should be viewed under the “strict scrutiny” standard, which requires the court to find that there are “compelling reasons” supporting the law.
In his opinion, George rejected the argument that tradition alone could provide the required “compelling reasons” in support of the gay marriage ban. Concluding that the California constitution guarantees same sex couples the right to marry, he said, “… our state now recognizes that an individual’s capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the person’s sexual orientation, and, more generally, that an individual’s sexual orientation — like a person’s race or gender — does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights.”
Justices Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, Joyce Kennard and Carlos Moreno joined George in the 4 justice majority. Justices Marvin Baxter, Ming Chin and Carol Corrigan dissented, with Baxter saying that the court had over-stepped its bounds and should have left the decision to the legislature or the people.
The decision was also a victory for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome, who precipitated the case by allowing gay San Francisco couples to marry in 2004. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that he will uphold the court ruling and that he opposes a proposed initiative to have the California constitution amended to prohibit gay marriage.
Interestingly, six of the seven California Supreme Court justices are Republican appointees (only Moreno was appointed by a Democratic governor). Massachusetts is the only other state which permits gay marriage, though a case addressing the issue is also now pending in the Supreme Court of Connecticut.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws against interracial marriage in the landmark case of Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967). That decision appears in its entirety on FindLaw at:
The Loving case and the preceding legal history is also discussed in the Wikipedia article at:
The California Supreme Court decision came in a case entitled In re MARRIAGE CASES, an appeal combining six lower court cases. The decision is available online in pdf format at:
The case pending in Connecticut is Kerrigan v. Comm’r of Public Health (SC No. 17716, argued May 14, 2007). It is cited in footnote 3 of the California Supreme Court decision.
For another interesting discussion of the California Supreme Court decision, see Kenji Yoshino’s Slate.com blog at: