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Appeals court upholds same-sex marriage ban
- Bob Egelko, Cecilia M. Vega and Wyatt Buchanan, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, October 5, 2006
(10-05) 15:40 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- Gays and lesbians have no constitutional right to marry in California, a right that can be granted only by state lawmakers or voters, a state appeals court ruled today.
The 2-1 decision, which reversed a San Francisco Superior Court judge's ruling, was a defeat for gay-rights advocates, who have looked to California courts to follow the lead of a 2003 ruling by Massachusetts' high court legalizing same-sex marriage in that state. The California Supreme Court is expected to have the final word in the case sometime next year.
In today's ruling, the Court of Appeal in San Francisco said the boundaries of marriage are up to the Legislature, which passed a law in 1977 defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. State voters reaffirmed that decision in a 2000 initiative that denied recognition to same-sex marriages in other states.
"The Legislature and the voters of this state have determined that 'marriage' in California is an institution reserved for opposite-sex couples, and it makes no difference whether we agree with their reasoning,'' Presiding Justice William McGuiness said in the majority opinion.
Although California courts have recognized a fundamental right to marry, he said, it applies only to the right to marry a partner of the opposite sex. "That such a right is irrelevant to a lesbian or gay person does not mean the definition of the fundamental right can be expanded by the judicial branch beyond its traditional moorings,'' McGuiness said.
He also noted that California has passed laws that give registered domestic partners the same rights as married couples under state law, although those rights are not recognized by the federal government.
"We believe it is rational for the Legislature to preserve the opposite-sex definition of marriage, which has existed throughout history and which continues to represent the common understanding of marriage in most other countries and states of our union, while at the same time providing equal rights and benefits to same-sex partners,'' McGuiness said.
He was joined in the majority by Justice Joanne Parrilli.
In dissent, Justice J. Anthony Kline said the state's ban on same-sex marriage violates the rights of personal privacy and autonomy and is just as discriminatory as California's former ban on interracial marriage, which the state Supreme Court struck down in 1948.
The definition of marriage accepted by the appeals court -- excluding an entire class of people based on their sexual orientation -- "demeans the institution of marriage and diminishes the humanity of the gay men and lesbians who wish to marry a loved one of their choice,'' Kline said.
The ruling overturned a March 2005 decision San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer, who said the marriage law violates the state Constitution by discriminating on the basis of sex and by denying gays and lesbians the right to marry the partner of their choice.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said today that the city would appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.
"This is a disappointing second-round decision in what we've always known to be a three-round fight," he said. "If today's ruling is ultimately sustained by the state Supreme Court, it would represent one California history's darkest hours in equal protection."
Gay rights leaders were disappointed by the ruling, but characterized it as a minor setback.
"It's a bump in a long road toward equality," said Matt Foreman, president of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Geoff Kors, who leads the California organization that sponsors most pro-gay bills in the legislature, said the ruling would provide momentum for another bill to give same-sex couples marriage rights. Such a bill passed the Legislature last year but was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"I think everyone's punting," Kors said. "No one is willing to stand up for equality in the state besides the Legislature."
San Francisco Assemblyman Mark Leno, a Democrat, has said he will reintroduce that bill on the first day the Legislature meets in December.
Today's ruling was a result of lawsuits filed by same-sex couples and the city of San Francisco challenging the constitutionality of the state's marriage laws. In February 2004, Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the city clerk to allow same-sex couples to be married in City Hall. Nearly 4,000 weddings were performed in a month before the state Supreme Court intervened, ruled that Newsom had exceeded his authority and declared the marriages invalid.
E-mail Bob Egelko at email@example.com.
Posted on Thu, Oct. 05, 2006
Appeals court upholds gay marriage ban
By Randy Myers
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
Read the court's ruling (PDF)
The State Court of Appeals delivered gay marriage supporters another blow today, upholding California's voter-approved limit of marriage to a man and a woman.
It reversed a lower court ruling that it is unconstitutional to ban same-sex nuptials in California.
The court justices's conclude: "California's historical definition of marriage does not deprive individuals of a vested fundamental right or discriminate against a suspect class, and thus we analyze the marriage statutes to determine whether the opposite-sex requirement is rationally related to a legitimate government interest...
"We conclude the marriage statutes are constitutional. The time may come when California chooses to expand the definition of marriage to encompass same-sex unions. That change must come from democratic processes, however, not by judicial fiat."
The contentious issue is far from over. Today's decision merely sets the stage for a showdown at the state Supreme Court.
The ruling from the three-justice panel was another bit of bad news for same-sex marriage advocates who have been defeated this summer in New York and Washington state courts that ruled against gay marriage that deferred to legislative action.
And although the divisive subject played a prominent part in the 2004 election, it has so far failed to inspire the same fervor in this year's elections.
"For now, politically, the issue is very much in the shadow of other issues," said Jack Pitney, a poliical sciene professor at Claremont McKenna College. "The midterm elections are more about Iraq and the economy than gay marriage."
Forty-four states have adopted laws that define marriage as a union between man and woman, while 19 states have amended constitutions to state just that. Six more constitutional amenmdents face voters come November.
In 2000, California voters approved Proposition 22, which defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Gay marriage foes pinned most of their legal arguments in the California hearing on the contention that male-female marriage was necessary to protect procreation. That argument appeared to resonate with the justices, made up of two men -- William McGuiness and Anthony Kline -- and one woman -- Joanne Parrilli.
Six couples sued the state after their San Francisco marriage licenses were ruled invalid in 2004. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom authorized city officials to issue the licenses beginning Feb. 12. About 4,000 same-sex couples, including nearly 1,300 couples from the East Bay, flocked to City Hall to tie the knot.
Although the ruling today is significant, the decision that is being most closely watched by advocates on both sides of the issues is in New Jersey, as the high court there prepares to decide whether to allow same-sex marriages. If that should happen, it would be the second state in the nation -- the first being Massachusetts -- to do so.
Staff writer Thomas Peele contributed to this story.
Key events in California's same-sex marriage debate
Some important dates in California's battle over same-sex marriage:
_ 1975: Gov. Jerry Brown signs legislation repealing criminal penalties for adultery, oral sex and sodomy between consenting adults.
_ 1977: Responding to claims the state's "gender-neutral" marriage statute left room for gays and lesbians to wed, the California Legislature amends the Family Code to define marriage as "a personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman."
_ 1999: The Legislature establishes a domestic partner registry giving same-sex couples who register limited rights previously given only to married spouses, including the right to visit each other in the hospital.
_ 2000: Proposition 22, which further amends the Family Code to state that "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California," passes with support from 61 percent of voters.
_ 2000: Legislature passes a law granting additional benefits to registered domestic partners, including the right to make medical decisions for a partner, the right to use the stepparent adoption process to adopt a partner's children and the right to sue for a partner's wrongful death.
_ 2002: Domestic partners are granted additional rights under state law, including the right to draft wills for each other and to receive copies of each other's birth and death certificates.
_ 2003: Gov. Gray Davis signs legislation granting registered domestic partners nearly all the remaining rights and responsibilities available to married spouses under California law. The measure, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2005, requires domestic partners to pay alimony and child support if there is divorce.
_ Feb. 12, 2004: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom directs city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Couples from all over the country line up for the chance to wed. In Sacramento, Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, introduces legislation to amend the Family Code, defining marriage as an institution arising out of a civil contract between "two persons."
_ March 11, 2004: After four weeks of gay marriages and more than 4,000 wedding licenses issued, the California Supreme Court halts San Francisco's same-sex weddings. The city and gay advocacy groups respond by suing to overturn the state's marriage laws.
_ May 19, 2004: Lacking support for his gay marriage bill, Leno withdraws it until the next legislative session rather than push for a floor vote.
_ Aug. 12, 2004: The California Supreme Court voids all gay marriages sanctioned in San Francisco, ruling that the mayor lacked the authority to contravene state law. The ruling does not address the substance of questions about the constitutionality of the state's gay marriage ban.
_ Dec. 6, 2004: Leno reintroduces his marriage bill, renamed the "Religious Freedom and California Civil Marriage Protection Act," with backing from Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and nearly 30 co-sponsors.
_Jan. 1, 2005: The 2003 Domestic Partners Rights and Responsibilities Act, a law granting gay couples who register as domestic partners nearly all the benefits and obligations afforded married spouses in California, takes effect.
_March 14, 2005: San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer rules that California's law limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman is unconstitutional.
_April 4, 2005: A state appeals court rules that California's domestic partner law doesn't conflict with a voter-approved initiative defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
_June 29, 2005: The California Supreme Court lets stand a new state law granting registered domestic partners many of the same rights and protections of heterosexual marriage.
_Aug. 10, 2005: The California Supreme Court says it will not immediately decide whether a state ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, leaving the case to a state appeals court.
_Sept. 29, 2005: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoes a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, leaving the issue up to voters or judges.
_May 5, 2006: A federal appeals court sidesteps whether it's unconstitutional under federal and state law to deny gays and lesbians the right to marry, leaving the issue to state courts to decide.
_Oct. 5, 2006: A state appeals court rules that California's ban on gay marriage doesn't violate the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians, overturning Judge Kramer's ruling.
California court backs ban on same-sex marriages
Thu Oct 5, 2006 11:36 PM BST
SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 5 - A California appeals court upheld on Thursday the state's ban on same-sex marriage, reversing a lower court's judgement against a voter-approved law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
"The Legislature and the voters of this state have determined that 'marriage' in California is an institution reserved for opposite-sex couples, and it makes no difference whether we agree with their reasoning," the California Court of Appeal held.
"We may not strike down a law simply because we think it unwise or because we believe there is a fairer way of dealing with the problem."
The decision stalls, at least temporarily, efforts to overturn California's ban on gay marriage. But gay activists said they will appeal to the California Supreme Court.
The appeals court reversed a lower court, which overturned California's ban on gay nuptials in a lawsuit triggered by the marriage licenses San Francisco briefly issued to same-sex couples in 2004.
"The trial court's decision, although purporting to apply rational basis review, essentially redefined marriage to encompass unions that have never before been considered as such in this state," the appellate court's majority held.
The appeals court said it would require a voter initiative or legislation to legalize same-sex marriage.
But Jon Davidson, legal director for the gay rights group Lambda Legal, said the California law was unfair and would be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
"This violates a fundamental right that all people have in California, which is to marry a person of their choice," Davidson said.
California Courts of Appeal: 1st Appellate District
Office of the City Attorney: CCSF v. State of California
Marriage Case Archive
Key documents from San Francisco's historic legal challenge to discriminatory marriage laws