Day of reckoning arrives for same-sex marriages

The emotionally charged legal battle that began in San Francisco four years ago about whether same-sex couples have the constitutional right to marry in the state will come to an end today with a ruling from the California Supreme Court.

“The process has been energizing and exhausting at the same time,” said City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who has guided The City’s legal fight about the marriages.

The seven-justice State Supreme Court will issue its decision at its main location in San Francisco at 10 a.m.

Herrera said that no matter what the court decides, he was comfortable being on “the right side of history.”

“Obviously we want to win rather than lose,” he said. “We’re going to be proud of the effort we’ve put in either way.”

Mayor Gavin Newsom threw San Francisco into the national debate on gay marriage Feb. 12, 2004, when he authorized city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Between Feb. 12 and March 11 of that year, more than 4,000 same-sex couples exchanged vows at City Hall before the California Supreme Court issued an order to keep marriage licenses from being issued to gay couples.

Within an hour of the Supreme Court’s order, Herrera filed a challenge arguing that the state’s marriage laws violate the state Constitution.

Mayorial spokesman Nathan Ballard said Wednesday that anticipation was high in the Mayor’s Office.

“Obviously, we hope the court does the right thing,” he said.

The crux of The City’s argument, which is supported by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and other advocacy organizations, is that the state’s 2000 voter-approved ban on gay marriage, Proposition 22, denies equal protection under law.

State attorneys defending California’s laws have argued in court that marriage should be limited to opposite-sex couples and that gay couples are offered similar rights under the state’s domestic-partnership laws, passed in 2005.

Domestic-partnership laws, Herrera said, were substandard, and “don’t provide all the protections that the marriage laws do.”

A ballot measure that would amend the state constitution to recognize marriage as only that between a man and a woman has been submitted but not yet validated for the November ballot. If passed, it would negate the argument that same-sex marriage has constitutional protection.

San Francisco is the first city in the nation to challenge the legality of gay-marriage laws, Herrera said. He said that most of the larger cities in California have filed briefs in support of The City’s position.

dsmith@sfexaminer.com

The deadlock on wedlock

The decision in the court battle about same-sex marriage in California will be announced today

What is being decided

» The seven-justice California Supreme Court has weighed whether same-sex couples havea constitutional right to marriage.

Opposed to same-sex marriage

» The state of California

» Legal counsel to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

» Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund

» Campaign for California Families

In favor of same-sex marriage

» The city and county of San Francisco

» Equality California

» Seven private citizens

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