Same-sex vows a month away

Same-sex wedding vows in California could be just a month away after the state Supreme Court ruling Thursday that declared the state’s voter-approved ban unconstitutional.

However, the victory could be short-lived as opponents of the gay-rights movement vowed to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would reverse the decision.

In its historic 4-3 ruling, the Republican-dominated high court ruled the state’s domestic-partnership laws limited same-sex couples’ constitutional right to marry and violated equal-protection guarantees within the state constitution.

The justices said they would direct state officials to take the necessary steps to officiate marriages. California is estimated to have 92,000 same-sex couples.

The decision represents the end of a legal road that began in 2004 when then-newly elected Mayor Gavin Newsom authorized the county clerk to allow same-sex marriages. Four years earlier, California voters had approved Proposition 22 which defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

Newsom’s move caused a national uproar. Just more than one month later, the California Supreme Court nullified the 4,000-plus marriage licenses that were granted.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a complaint the same day. One year later, in March 2005, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer ruled that laws restricting marriage rights of same-sex couples violated the California constitution.

The California attorney general and conservative organizations appealed Kramer’s decision to the state Court of Appeal, which ruled that existing laws were not discriminatory. The California Supreme Court’s decision Thursday overturned the appellate court ruling.

“It’s about human dignity. It’s about civil rights. It’s about time,” Newsom said of the court’s ruling.

However, when same-sex couples can begin proclaiming their “I do’s” is still unclear.

While the court’s decision becomes final June 14, there are several legal steps that need to be taken from that point forward. That could take any number of days, City Attorney’s Office spokesman Matt Dorsey said.

Since California has no residency requirement for obtaining a marriage license, same-sex couples could come from across the country to get married, as they did when The City began granting marriages in 2004.

The City has already begun booking appointments beginning June 16, the first business day after the 30-day period ends.

But even after those marriages take place, it is still unclear what the status of those marriages would be if a November ballot measure passes altering the California constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said he believed the marriages would still be valid even if the state constitution was amended.

Milestones in The City’s four-year legal fight

» Feb. 12, 2004: Mayor Gavin Newsom authorizes The City to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. More than 4,000 same-sex couples are married during the 29-day wedding spree that follows.

» Feb. 13, 2004: Two organizations opposed to gay marriage — the Proposition22 Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Campaign for California Families — file lawsuits in defense of the state’s marriage ban.

» March 11, 2004: San Francisco stops issuing marriage licenses at the order of the California Supreme Court. San Francisco’s city attorney files a lawsuit against the state in San Francisco Superior Court challenging the constitutionality of laws prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying in California.

» March 2004: Twelve same-sex couples and two gay-rights groups file a lawsuit — Woo v. California — in San Francisco Superior Court contending that the state’s marriage laws violate the California Constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment. Two other lawsuits against the state, one on behalf of two same-sex couples in Los Angeles — Tyler v. California — and another on behalf of six same-sex couples filed in San Francisco — Clinton v. California — are also filed.

» May 25, 2004: A California Supreme Court hearing concentrates on Newsom’s authority to authorize same-sex marriage licenses and on the status of the couples who married at City Hall between Feb. 12 and March 11.

» Aug. 12, 2004: The California Supreme Court voids San Francisco’s gay marriages exactly six months after they were performed, finding that Newsom violated state law.

» December 2004: All six cases — for and against same-sex marriage — are heard simultaneously in San Francisco Superior Court.

» March 14, 2005: A San Francisco Superior Courtjudge declares California’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Ruling is put on hold — so same-sex couples are still not allowed to marry — to allow for court appeals, which are filed by the state’s attorney general, the Campaign for California Families and Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund.

» July 10, 2006: All six cases are heard in the California Court of Appeal before a three-justice panel.

» Oct. 5, 2006: California Court of Appeal panel upholds marriage laws that exclude gay and lesbian couples as constitutional. San Francisco’s city attorney vows to submit case to California Supreme Court for review.

» Nov. 13, 2006: San Francisco appeals to the state Supreme Court, asking it to review the constitutionality of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

» Dec. 20, 2006: The state Supreme Court votes unanimously to take the case.

» April 2, 2007: Lawyers for San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera argue in briefs filed with the court that the same-sex marriage ban makes lesbians and gay men second-class citizens.

» March 4, 2008: State Supreme Court justices preside over a 3½-hour hearing in which they consider questions of tradition and discrimination.

» May 15, 2008: The California Supreme Court overturns the voter-approved same-sex marriage ban in a ruling that would make California the second state in the country to allow lesbians and gay men to marry. The 4-3 decision concludes that legislative and initiative measures limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violate the state constitutional rights of same-sex couples.

Source: Examiner archives; National Center for Lesbian Rights

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