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State's top court agrees to review same-sex marriage ruling
- Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
(12-20) 13:06 PST SAN FRANCISCO -- The state Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry in California.
The court voted unanimously today to review an Oct. 5 ruling by a state appellate court that upheld California's ban on same-sex marriage. That court ruled 2-1 that the state was entitled to maintain the traditional definition of marriage as long as it continues to grant substantially equal rights to same-sex couples who register as domestic partners.
In an unusual action, Attorney General Bill Lockyer, whose office is defending the marriage law, joined opponents of the law in asking the California Supreme Court to review the case. They said thousands of couples as well as the general public deserve an answer from the state's highest court on the extent of marriage rights under the state constitution.
The court did not say when it would hear the case. With extensive written arguments expected, a hearing is unlikely before next fall at the earliest, with a ruling to follow within 90 days.
Today's announcement came nearly two months after the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples were entitled to be treated equally with heterosexual couples but did not have a fundamental right to marry under the state's constitution. The 4-3 ruling led to swift passage last week of a bill establishing civil unions, which Gov. Jon Corzine may sign as soon as Thursday.
A similar ruling by Vermont's Supreme Court in 1999 also prompted passage of a civil unions law a year later. Such a ruling is unlikely in California, however, because the state already has a law giving domestic partners, most of them gay or lesbian couples, virtually all of the rights enjoyed by married couples -- a law described by advocates of same-sex marriage as separate and unequal. Only Massachusetts' highest court, in 2003, has ruled that marriage must be available to all couples regardless of gender.
The California case started in 2004, when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered marriage licenses granted to same-sex couples. The state Supreme Court called a halt after a month and later nullified the nearly 4,000 weddings in a ruling that found Newsom had exceeded his authority.
The issue of the validity of the 1977 law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman was referred to San Francisco Superior Court, where Judge Richard Kramer ruled the statute unconstitutional in March 2005. He said it violated the fundamental right to marry the partner of one's choice -- first declared by the state Supreme Court in a 1948 ruling on interracial marriage -- and that it also discriminated on the basis of gender.
The appeals court overturned Kramer's ruling this October, saying the fundamental right to marry applied only to opposite-sex couples and noting the steps California has taken toward equal rights for gays and lesbians.
That ruling was appealed by groups of same-sex couples and by the city of San Francisco, which also challenged the marriage law.
The Supreme Court proceeding is In re Marriage Cases, S147999.
E-mail Bob Egelko at firstname.lastname@example.org.
California's top court to review gay marriage ban
Wed Dec 20, 5:35 PM ET
California's highest court said on Wednesday it would consider a lawsuit challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriages, a legal fight stemming from marriage licenses granted to homosexual couples two years ago by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.
A California appeals court in October upheld the state's voter-approved ban, which gay activists said they would appeal. Legal experts had expected the California Supreme Court to accept petitions to review the decision.
Newsom defied the state's ban by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a move that triggered an intense national debate over whether gays should be allowed marry.
Since then California's Democrat-led legislature has sided with gay activists, approving legislation to permit same-sex nuptials. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the legislation, saying the issue should be left to voters or the courts.
The state's voters in 2000 approved a ballot measure defining marriage as the union of a man and woman. But domestic partnership legislation since then has afforded gay couples in California many of the same privileges enjoyed by married couples.
New Jersey lawmakers last week approved same-sex civil unions, giving gay and lesbian couples the same rights as married partners without allowing the relationships to be called "marriage."
Only Massachusetts has legalized marriage between same-sex partners.
Calif. high court reviewing gay marriage
By DAVID KRAVETS, Associated Press Writer
Wednesday December 20, 2006
The California Supreme Court unanimously agreed Wednesday to decide whether the state's ban on same-sex marriage violates a constitutional ban on discrimination, though an outcome is not likely until late next year.
The justices are reviewing an October decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal, which ruled that California marriage laws do not discriminate because gay and lesbian couples can get most rights the state confers to married couples.
Massachusetts is the only state that authorizes same-sex marriage. California offers domestic partnerships, similar to civil unions in Vermont and Connecticut.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed gay and lesbian couples to wed at City Hall in 2004, but California's justices halted the ensuing wedding spree and voided 4,037 marriage licenses by ruling the mayor did not have authority to make marriage law.
About 20 same-sex couples and the city of San Francisco sued the state, and the case has meandered through trial and appellate courts. Had the Supreme Court not taken the case, the lower court's decision would have stood.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said the city was "extremely gratified."
"It's perhaps the major civil rights issue of our time," he said.
A call to the office of Attorney General Bill Lockyer was not returned.
A 1977 law and a 2000 voter-approved measure prohibit gays and lesbians from marrying in California.
Meanwhile, in Alaska, Gov. Sarah Palin said Wednesday that officials will abide by a state Supreme Court decision to provide benefits to the same-sex partners of state employees as of Jan. 1.
The court on Tuesday had told the state to stop dragging its feet and implement benefits, which will end a seven-year battle by the American Civil Liberties Union and nine couples who sued.
"We believe we have no more judicial options," Palin said, shortly before the Republican signed a bill calling for voters to decide in April whether the Legislature should consider proposing a constitutional amendment to prohibit the benefits.
The high court ruled in October 2005 that denying the benefits violated the state's guarantee of equal protection for all Alaskans.
The state constitution prohibits marriage for same-sex couples.
Associated Press writer Steve Quinn in Anchorage, Alaska, contributed to this report.
Legislators condemn nativity scene dolls
Wed Dec 20, 8:38 PM ET
Two Italian legislators caused an uproar among colleagues in this predominantly Catholic country on Wednesday when they placed dolls representing two gay couples in Parliament's nativity scene.
Bruno Mellano and Donatella Porretti of the small but vocal Radical Party said their gesture was intended to show support for a law that would give unmarried couples, including gays, some of the same rights as married couples. But it prompted swift and stern condemnation from shocked legislators on all sides.
"Vulgar and unacceptable," said a statement by women deputies with the rightist, opposition Forza Italia party.
Pro-Vatican politician Rosy Bindi called the move "a useless provocation against the nativity of the Chamber of Deputies that hurts us as Christians and as citizens of this country," in comments carried by the ANSA agency.
The four dolls in question included dolls embracing. They were removed within minutes, according to the ANSA news agency.
Furor in Italy over "gay nativity" in parliament
By Philip Pullella
Wed Dec 20, 11:38 AM ET
Two leftists in Italy's ruling coalition on Wednesday outraged fellow lawmakers by placing four dolls representing homosexual couples near the baby Jesus in the official nativity scene in parliament.
The two parliamentarians from the small "Rose in the Fist" party said their gesture was to promote the legalization of gay marriage and granting legal recognition to unmarried couples.
Bruno Mellano and Donatella Poretti placed the Barbie and Ken-type dolls in the parliamentary nativity scene, each couple lying down embraced among the shepherds witnessing the birth of Jesus.
Each of the two doll couples, which parliamentary ushers removed after a few minutes, wore miniature placards with slogans in favor of gay rights.
"This is a vulgar and unacceptable double attack against both a (national) institution as well as a religious symbol," a group of women parliamentarians of the opposition conservative Forza Italia party said in a statement.
Luca Volonte, a member of the small centrist opposition Union of Christian Democrats, called the gesture a "pure attack against the religion practiced by the majority of Italians."
Italy is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic and nativity scenes, featuring figures of the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, animals and three kings bearing gifts, are put but in many homes, squares and shops.
Some members of the opposition demanded the lawmakers be censured by the speaker of the lower house of parliament.
But even the Italian Communist Party, which supports gay rights and is also in the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Romano Prodi, distanced itself from the action.
One communist parliamentarian called it "a grave political error" that would not help homosexuals.
The two leftist politicians carried out their gesture just before Pope Benedict, speaking to pilgrims and tourists at the Vatican, said Christmas creches were part of Christian culture that had to be defended.
In recent weeks, several state schools have decided not to erect the nativity scene. Some shops decided not to sell them, saying they were not popular or did not fit their image.
But even Education Minister Giuseppe Fioroni has criticized such schools, saying they had gone too far in banning nativity scenes which could instead be used as tools for inter-religious dialogue.
Last Updated: 16 August 2006
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