15 May 2008

California Supreme Court Defends Equality for All

The California Supreme Court has overturned a state law banning same-sex marriage, ruling that the law violates the state constitution. According to the Court's opinion, "an individual's sexual orientation -- like a person's race or gender -- does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights." Amen to that. As Thomas Jefferson said, "it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg" if gay couples get married. (Not that Tom would have gone along with this in his time, but that's the great thing about good principles--you just can't keep them limited to only the things you like.)

Because there's no federal constitutional issue at stake here, the case can't be appealed any higher. The only way to overturn this now is to amend the state constitution. A legislative amendment to the Constitution requires approval by 2/3 of each legislative house--an unlikely proposition, I think. A citizen initiative amendment can be put on the ballot if petitioners gather signatures from registered voters equal to 8% of the votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election, and only a simple majority to pass. Getting an amendment to overturn this ruling on the ballot probably wouldn't be too hard, and given that Proposition 22-the statutory initiative that banned same-sex marriage--received 61% of the vote bodes ill for keeping this ruling in place.

However, by the time an initiative can get on the ballot and be passed, there will probably be thousands of same-sex marriages in California, and then you do run into some serious issues--can a marriage authorized by the state be undone by the state against the wishes of the married couple? Will a majority of Californians be willing to do so? Let us hope not--let us just agree to grant all people the dignity of marrying the person they love. It was in California, after all, that my gay friend, Bill, came up to me during my wedding reception and said, "I want my wedding to be just like this." I'm still hoping he gets his wish.


Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday!

James Hanley said...

Yes, I did feel like it was a nice birthday present. Of course nobody involved in this decision was thinking of me.