Thursday, May 15, 2008

Equal marriage wins (for now) in California!

Wonderful and historic news from California's Supreme Court, which ruled today that a ban on gay marriage was unlawful, effectively leaving same-sex couples in America's most populous state free to tie the knot in a landmark ruling.

In an opinion that analysts say could have U.S.-wide implications for the issue, the court panel voted 4-3 in favor of plaintiffs who argued that restricting marriage to men and women was discriminatory.

"... limiting the designation of marriage to a union 'between a man and a woman' is unconstitutional and must be stricken from the statute," California Chief Justice Ron George said in the written opinion.

Before Thursday only one U.S. state - Massachusetts - allowed gay marriage, although California, New Jersey and Vermont have legislation which grants same-sex partners many of the same legal rights as married couples.

This decision could no doubt throw a wrench into this year's presidential race. All three major candidates for President are on record opposing gay marriage. It remains to be seen if the American public will react as it did in 2004 after a similar court ruling in Massachusetts, or if Republican John McCain will attempt to use this issue to bolster his support among U.S. evangelicals, who will no doubt be horrified by today's ruling.

Equality opponents are already preparing for a possible referendum on the issue in California this November to try to write discrimination into California's constitution and overturn today's decision. To counter these moves, the Human Rights Campaign has already sent out an email to supporters calling for donations to a special fund – the HRC California Marriage PAC – to fight against the anti-equal marriage ballot initiative. You can donate directly to this fund here.

In recent years, California lawmakers have also voted in favor of gay marriage but the bill was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has said that the matter is for the state's court system to decide on.

Today, Schwarzenegger released this statement: “I respect the Court’s decision and as Governor, I will uphold its ruling. Also, as I have said in the past, I will not support an amendment to the constitution that would overturn this state Supreme Court ruling.”

Legal analysts say Thursday's court ruling could have wide-ranging implications for other US states, noting the California Supreme Court's history of landmark rulings.

"The California Supreme Court's example is often emulated and it often is sort of a groundbreaker," said David Cruz, a law professor at the University of Southern California and an expert in constitutional law. "In the 20th century California was the first state to strike down laws against inter-racial marriage. They did that 19 years before the US Supreme Court got around to it."