Religious and Civil Rights Groups Support Same-Sex Couples in Legal Battle to Marry

January 10, 2006 12:00 am

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NAACP, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, California Council of Churches, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and National Black Justice Coalition Are Among Groups Filing Briefs in Landmark California Court of Appeal Case

SAN FRANCISCO — In eight friend-of-the-court briefs filed Monday with the California Court of Appeal, more than more than 250 religious and civil rights organizations urged the court to put an end to state laws that deny same-sex couples the protections of marriage. The Court is hearing the State’s appeal of the March 2005 decision by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer, which held that California’s current statutory ban on marriage of same-sex couples violates the California Constitution.

“I am proud to join with other civil rights leaders in standing up for fairness and dignity for all,” said Alice Huffman, President of the California Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “Never before has such a diverse array of groups stepped forward to call for an end to the unfair treatment faced by same-sex couples and their families when they are denied the ability to marry.” The group filed an friend-of-the-court brief asking the Court of Appeal to apply the holding in Perez v. Sharp, the 1948 California Supreme Court decision striking down laws banning interracial marriage, to the current case. The NAACP’s brief was authored by longtime civil rights advocate Jon B. Eisenberg.

More than 200 local, regional, and national religious organizations and clergy also filed a brief arguing that the constitutional principle of religious freedom supports the right of same-sex couples to marry. Groups joining the brief include the United Church of Christ, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Unitarian Church, the California Council of Churches, California Faith for Equality, the Ecumenical Catholic Church and the Buddhist group Soka Gakkai International-USA. The brief was authored by a team of attorneys under the leadership of Raoul D. Kennedy.

“There is great diversity among people of faith throughout California on the issue of marriage for same-sex couples,” said Rick Schossler, Executive Director of the California Council of Churches and California Church IMPACT, which together represent 50 Protestant and Orthodox judicatories throughout California with more than 1.5 million members. “It is a matter of religious freedom to allow faith communities to practice their faith by performing and blessing marriages between same-sex couples who wish to make a commitment to each other, while allowing denominations that oppose such marriages to refrain from so doing.”

Twenty-one civil rights, community and legal groups joined a brief criticizing laws that discriminate against gay people, including the law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. Karin Wang, Vice President for Programs of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California and of-counsel on the brief, said “APALC supports this case because people of color in California are sadly familiar with marriage discrimination, as many of our communities were targets of racially restrictive marriage rules in the past. In addition, the civil rights of all communities are inseparably linked so it is important for civil rights groups to stand together in support of marriage equality.”

The brief was authored by attorneys from O’Melveny & Myers, LLP. Other groups who joined the brief include the Japanese American Bar Association , People for the American Way, the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, and Equal Justice Society, among others.

More than 25 Asian Pacific Islander groups joined an additional brief describing the long history of discrimination against API communities with regard to marriage in California. The brief was authored by Victor Hwang, an attorney with Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach. “As an Asian American whose ancestors were denied equal rights and protections under California law, I recognize the profound harm caused by denying lesbian and gay people the ability to protect their families through marriage,” said Hwang.

Women’s organizations also filed an friend-of-the-court brief in support of same-sex couples, including the California Women’s Law Center, Equal Rights Advocates, Legal Momentum, and the Queen’s Bench Bar Association of the San Francisco Bay Area. Professor Herma Hill Kay, one of the leading family law scholars in the nation, also joined this brief, which was authored by attorneys from Irell & Manella LLP.

MassEquality, Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, and Freedom to Marry submitted a brief, authored by attorneys from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. Another brief was submitted by Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom, Family Pride, the Human Rights Campaign, the Lesbian and Gay Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association, Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, SacLEGAL, and the Tom Homann Law Association in San Diego. The brief was authored by attorneys from Munger, Tolles & Olson, LLP.

Law professors from across the United States and Canada also filed a brief noting that a growing number of other countries now permit same-sex couples to marry and explaining that marriage is a fundamental human right. The Women’s Institute for Leadership Development, an international human rights organization based in California, also joined the brief.

The plaintiffs in the case are 12 same-sex couples, Equality California, and Our Family Coalition, who are represented by lead counsel National Center for Lesbian Rights, along with co-counsel Lambda Legal, the ACLU, Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe LLP, the Law Office of David C. Codell, and Steefel, Levitt & Weiss. The City of San Francisco is also a plaintiff in the case, represented by City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart, along with the law firm of Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin. The case likely will be set for oral argument in the spring.

For a complete list of organizations filing friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the right of same-sex couples to marry, please visit the Woo v. Lockyer link at

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