SAN FRANCISCO (March 14) - A
judge ruled Monday that California's ban on gay marriage
is unconstitutional - a legal milestone that, if upheld
on appeal, would open the way for the most populous
state to follow Massachusetts in allowing same-sex
couples to wed.
Judge Richard Kramer of San
Francisco County's trial-level Superior Court likened
the ban to laws requiring racial segregation in schools,
and said there appears to be ''no rational purpose'' for
denying marriage to gay couples.
The ruling came in response
to lawsuits filed by the city of San Francisco and a
dozen gay couples a year ago after the California
Supreme Court halted a four-week same-sex marriage spree
started by Mayor Gavin Newsom.
The opinion had been eagerly
awaited because of San Francisco's historical role as a
gay rights battleground
Gay marriage supporters hailed the ruling as a historic
development akin to the 1948 state Supreme Court
decision that made California the first state to
legalize interracial marriage.
''Today's ruling is an
important step toward a more fair and just California
that rejects discrimination and affirms family values
for all California families,'' San Francisco City
Attorney Dennis Herrera said.
Conservative leaders expressed outrage at the ruling and vowed
''For a single judge to rule there
is no conceivable purpose for preserving marriage as one man and
one woman is mind-boggling,'' said Liberty Counsel President
Mathew Staver. ''This decision will be gasoline on the fire of
the pro-marriage movement in California as well as the rest of
Last winter, nearly 4,000 gay
couples got married after Newsom instructed the city to issue
them licenses, in defiance of state law. The California Supreme
Court later declared those marriages void, saying the mayor
overstepped his authority. But the court did not address the
underlying issue of whether the law against gay marriage
violates the California Constitution.
At issue in the current case were a
1977 law that defined marriage as ''a personal relation arising
out of a civil contract between a man and a woman,'' and a
voter-approved measure in 2000 that amended the law to say more
explicitly: ''Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid
or recognized in California.''
Gay marriage opponents were
particularly upset by the judge's decision to nullify to 2000
proposition - approved by 61 percent of voters.
''The practical effect is the
disregard of close to two-thirds of the people of California who
used the initiative process to ensure that marriage would remain
between one man and one woman,'' said Robert Tyler, an attorney
for the Alliance Defense Fund.
The state maintained that tradition
dictates that marriage should be limited to opposite-sex
couples. Attorney General Bill Lockyer also cited the state's
domestic-partners law as evidence that California does not
discriminate against gays.
But Kramer rejected that argument,
citing Brown v. Board of Education - the landmark U.S. Supreme
Court decision that struck down segregated schools.
''The idea that marriage-like rights
without marriage is adequate smacks of a concept long rejected
by the courts - separate but equal,'' the judge wrote.
It could be months or years before
the state actually sanctions same-sex marriage, if ever.
Kramer's decision is stayed automatically for 60 days to allow
time for appeal.
Lockyer has said in the past that he
expected the matter eventually would have to be settled by the
California Supreme Court.
A jovial Newsom was flanked by
several same-sex couples and their supporters at a City Hall
news conference shortly after the ruling was announced. ''We
will not be appealing this decision,'' the mayor joked as the
crowd broke into laughter.
Two bills now before the California
Legislature would put a constitutional amendment banning
same-sex marriage on the November ballot. If California voters
approve such an amendment, as those in 13 other states did last
year, that would put the issue out of the control of lawmakers
and the courts.
The decision is the latest
development in a national debate that has been raging since
2003, when the highest court in Massachusetts decided that
denying gay couples the right to wed was unconstitutional.
In the wake of the Massachusetts
ruling, gay rights advocates filed lawsuits seeking to strike
down traditional marriage laws in several other states.
Opponents responded by proposing state and federal
constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.
Around the country, Kramer is the
fourth trial court judge in recent months to decide that the
right to marry and its benefits must be extended to same-sex
Just as many judges have gone the
other way in recent months, however, refusing to accept the
argument that keeping gays from marrying violates their civil
California has the highest
percentage of same-sex partners in the nation, and its
Legislature has gone further than any other in providing gay
couples the benefits of marriage without being forced to do so
by court order.
AP-NY-03-14-05 21:01 EST
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