Same-sex Couples Ask California Supreme Court to Strike Down Marriage Ban

March 4, 2008 12:00 am

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California Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments Today

SAN FRANCISCO – Attorneys for same-sex couples presented arguments to the California Supreme Court today in a historic lawsuit seeking to strike down a state law that bars lesbians and gay men from marriage. Fifteen same-sex couples, Equality California, and Our Family Coalition were represented at oral arguments by Shannon Price Minter, Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is serving as co-counsel with Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, Heller Ehrman LLP and the Law Office of David C. Codell.

Del Martin and her partner Phyllis Lyon, who are petitioners in the case, are hopeful that the court will clear the way for them to get married. “During our 55 years together, we have witnessed enormous changes in California law concerning lesbian and gay people,” said Martin. “At one time, the law treated us as complete outsiders. Today, the law recognizes our existence, but it does not yet recognize our full humanity and equality. We have loved one another faithfully for more than five decades. We wish to marry before either one of us dies.”

Myra Beals, who came from Mendocino, CA to watch the arguments with her partner Ida Matson added, “We have been in love for 31 years and are finally getting our day in court. It was encouraging to hear explained what we know so well from our years together – it is unfair and hurtful to be barred from the legal protections and universal societal recognition of marriage.”

“It is a great privilege to be a part of this historic moment for our state and the tens of thousands of same-sex couples who deserve the same fundamental right to marry that most Californians take for granted,” said Minter, who argued before the Court. “We are hopeful that the California Supreme Court will affirm that lesbian and gay couples are entitled to celebrate their relationships through marriage.”

The marriage cases were filed in March, 2004. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard A. Kramer ruled that the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage violates the California Constitution. In a 2-1 vote, the California Court of Appeal reversed Judge Kramer’s ruling. Shortly after the Court of Appeal’s decision, the California Supreme Court granted review of the cases in order to consider the constitutional questions itself.

“The California Supreme Court has a rich history of making sure that all Californians are treated fairly,” said Maya Harris, Executive Director of the ACLU of Northern California. “After today’s hearing, we are hopeful that the court recognizes that barring same-sex couples from the legal protections and dignity that comes through marriage is unfair and flies in the face of the promise of equality guaranteed by our constitution.”

“Today marks a landmark milestone in our collective efforts to achieve full equality for same-sex couples and their families in California,” said EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors. “All Californians, including same-sex couples, want to realize their hopes and dreams and enjoy the honor, commitment and security that come only through marriage. The time has come for California to end, once and for all, the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. It is time to give loving and committed same-sex couples the dignity and respect they have long been denied simply because of whom they love.”

“California sets the course for the rest of the country,” said Jenny Pizer, Senior Counsel for Lambda Legal. “With its landmark 1948 decision Perez v. Sharp, this was the first state supreme court to overturn a law banning interracial marriages. Less than 20 years later, the U.S. Supreme Court followed suit. The rest of the country and, in fact, the world, are watching what happens here today.”

2008 marks the 60th anniversary of the California Supreme Court’s historic 1948 ruling that found it unconstitutional for the state to restrict access to marriage based on the race of the spouses. That ruling was the first of its kind in the nation’s history, and is now the law of the land across the country. The California NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc., and Howard Law School Civil Rights Clinic have urged the court to apply the reasoning from its 1948 decision to the present marriage cases.

The marriage cases are among the most heavily briefed cases in the history of the California Supreme Court. More than 20 counties and municipalities filed a friend-of-the court brief in support of marriage for same-sex couples, including some of the most populous cities in California: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, Long Beach, Sacramento, and Oakland. In addition, more than 250 religious and civil rights leaders and organizations, including the California NAACP, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, California Council of Churches, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and National Black Justice Coalition, filed briefs supporting same-sex couples seeking the right to marry. Numerous legal and bar associations, including the Los Angeles County Bar Association, also registered their support, as well as many of the state’s leading constitutional law scholars and family law professors.

The California Supreme Court typically issues its decisions within 90 days following oral arguments.

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The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education. NCLR is lead counsel in In re Marriage Cases.

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

The American Civil Liberties Union is America’s foremost advocate of individual rights. It fights discrimination and moves public opinion on LGBT rights through the courts, legislatures and public education.

Founded in 1998, Equality California celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2008, commemorating a decade of building a state of equality in California. EQCA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots-based, statewide advocacy organization whose mission is to achieve equality and civil rights of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Californians.

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