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California Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Marriage Cases

Paul Cates,
LGBT Project
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March 4, 2008

Today the California Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in a number of lawsuits seeking marriage for same-sex couples. The National Center for Lesbian Rights,the ACLU and Lambda Legal brought one of the lawsuits in March 2004 on behalf of couples who were on the waiting list to receive a marriage license from San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, but never receivedthem because the high court ordered the city to stop issuing licenses.

A lot has happened on the marriage front in the four years since Mayor Newsom was thrust into the spotlight for his courageous decision to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Later that year, voters in 14 states voted to amend their state constitutions to bar same-sex couples from marriage, many going much further and barring other types of relationships recognition. Today, 26 states have anti-gay marriage amendments.

But at some point after the 2004 elections, the tide began to swing back in favor of marriage for same-sex couples. Arizona defeated an anti-gay marriage amendment. The Massachusetts legislature courageously rejected attempts to put an amendment on the ballot there that would have asked the electorate to undo a state high court decision giving same-sex couples the ability to marry. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the state to continue to bar same-sex couples from receiving the legal protections that come with marriage, ultimately resulting in the state legislature passing a comprehensive civil union law. Lawmakers in Oregon, Washington and Maine also enacted broad protections for same-sex couples. In California, the state legislature twice passed bills grating same-sex couples the ability to marry, but Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the bills, saying it was up to the California Supreme Court to decide the issue.

As civil rights struggles go, the fight for marriage seems to be moving along at a pretty typical speed. There have been a number of very important victories, but a few unfortunate losses along the way. But each time the issue was thrust into the public spotlight, we’ve had an opportunity to make our case. And that seems to be making a difference with the public. Consistent advances in opinion polls show that Americans are beginning to realize that it isn’t fair to bar two people who are in love and committed to each other from getting married just because they happen to bemembers of the same-sex.

Whether that can be said for the California Supreme Court is yet to be seen. On the plus side, California has a very rich history of standing up for fairness. Fortunately, we won’t have to wait long to find out. The court issues decisions within 90 days of oral argument in most cases.

Learn more about the California Supreme Court case on our case page.

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