State supreme court upholds Proposition 8

SACRAMENTO — The California Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that voters' ban on gay marriages should prevail, but allowed to stand marriages that occurred in the brief window before the vote was taken.

The court majority rejected Attorney General Jerry Brown's challenge that Proposition 8 violates "inalienable" rights of same-sex couples to pursue marriage.

The court's opinion, a summary of the ruling, "declares that the identification of a right as 'inalienable' has never been understood to mean that such right is exempt from any limitation or to preclude the adoption of a constitutional amendment that restricts the scope of such a right."

The 6-1 majority opinion was written by Chief Justice Ronald George — who wrote last year's opinion that paved the way for gay marriages — and was joined by Justices Joyce Kennard, Marvin Baxter, Ming Chin and Carol Corrigan. Kennard filed a separate concurring opinion, as did Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar.

The 6-1 opinion rejected the challenge to Proposition 8. The judges unanimously upheld the same-sex marriages that took place during the five-month window when such unions were legal.

Justice Carlos R. Moreno agreed with the majority that Proposition 8 applies only going forward, but he dissented by concluding that the measure is an unlawful amendment to California's constitution.

Proposition 8 passed Nov. 4 with about 52 percent of the vote. It changes California's constitution with a simple declaration that only a marriage between a man and a woman is legal and valid in the state.

A crowd of gay advocates outside the San Francisco courthouse started chanting "Shame on you, shame on you" the moment the court's decision was announced.

"It's what we expected based on the initial hearings," said Margie Groeninger, who is married to her partner. "The justices have been clear that even though they view this as discriminatory, it's out of their hands. I'm incredibly hurt and disappointed."

Aaron McLear, spokesman for Gov. Schwarzenegger, said, "I think he was hoping it would go the other way. But it didn't, and he will uphold what they have to say."

"Personally, he believes that marriage is between a man and a woman," McLear said. Nevertheless, he said, Schwarzenegger voted against Proposition 8 and supports giving same-sex couples the right to marry.

"He's always said it's not his job to impose that upon others, so he believes that someday soon, either the courts or the people will give same-sex individuals the right to marry. But it's his duty as governor to carry out whatever the Supreme Court says he needs to do."

Schwarzenegger issued a statement calling on those responding to the court decision "to do so peacefully and lawfully."

The National Organization for Marriage praised the state Supreme Court decision.

"We're grateful this court did not overturn the civil rights of all Californians to amend our own constitution," Brian Brown, the group's executive director, said in a statement. "The 7 million Californians who worked hard to protect marriage as the union of husband and wife are breathing easier today."

New campaign afoot

The liberal Courage Campaign issued a news release expressing its disappointment. Chairman Rick Jacobs said the group has begun preparing for another ballot fight next year.

"While we are pleased that the court recognized the legal marriages of the 18,000 same-sex couples married in 2008, we are saddened by the Prop. 8 decision. But we don't have time to mourn the failure of the state court to restore marriage equality to California," he said.

The group said it was immediately launching a 60-second television ad "that illustrates the love and commitment between all same-sex couples and the effect Proposition 8 and the Supreme Court ruling poses to their current and future families."

Equality California, a gay rights advocacy group, issued an Internet fund-raising appeal, saying it will need to "raise more money than we've ever raised" and will launch a grass-roots mobilization and public education campaign designed to reach more than 300,000 Californians in the next 100 days.

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The California Family Council said the decision bolstered both the historic definition of marriage and the will of the people.

"We thank the court for their sound legal decision," executive director Ron Prentice said in a statement. "More than 100,000 people gave of their time and resources to reinforce the meaning and purpose of marriage."

The group said defenders of heterosexual marriage are planning celebrations of the decision in several cities, including San Diego and Fresno, this weekend.

Second ruling

In the long and twisting same-sex marriage battle in California, this isn't the first time the justices have ruled on the emotionally charged issue.

In May 2008 the same justices overturned a voter-approved law banning gay marriage and issued a decision favorable to same-sex marriage rights. Suddenly, the way was paved for thousands of gay couples to wed across the state.

More than 18,000 couples were married during the months before anti-gay marriage groups mobilized, vowing to challenge the court. They placed Proposition 8 on the ballot and went on to win.

When the justices originally ruled on gay marriage rights in 2008, they were looking at a different set of circumstances. Their decision stemmed from a review of a previous ballot measure, Proposition 22, which voters approved in 2000.

That measure also declared marriage valid only between a man and a woman, but it differed from Proposition 8 because it was not a change to the state's constitution.

In 2008, after a lengthy review of Proposition 22, the justices ruled 4-3 that it was unconstitutional to bar same-sex couples from the right of marriage.

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