California's gay marriage battle back in court

4 Mar 2009

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) -- California's long-running battle over same-sex marriage will return to the state's highest court Thursday, nearly one year after judges overturned a ban on gay weddings in a historic ruling.

The California Supreme Court justices who voted in favor of same-sex marriage last May will be asked to do so again by rights lawyers who argue that a November referendum which reversed the court's earlier ruling was unlawful.

The court must issue its latest ruling within 90 days, a decision expected to have a major impact on the gay rights movement throughout the United States.

Supporters of same-sex marriage, who plan marches and rallies Wednesday across California, frame their cause as a civil rights issue.

Opponents cite the Bible and argue that voters had their say when they passed a ballot measure last November, known as Proposition 8, that stated only marriage between a man and a woman was recognized in California.

Passage of the proposition halted same-sex marriages and left a question mark above the 18,000 gay weddings performed during six months since the court system overturned the ban six months earlier.

Opponents of Proposition 8 will argue it is invalid because it was a revision of California's Constitution, not an amendment, and required two-thirds approval by state lawmakers before it was put to a statewide vote.

California's senate and assembly recently passed non-binding resolutions opposing the proposition.

Leading the team of attorneys pressing for invalidation of Proposition 8 will be Shannon Minter, legal director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Minter was lead attorney last year in the case that led California to strike down a 2000 proposition that banned gay marriage.

Minter is a transsexual who spent the first 35 years of his life as a female. He married a woman eight years ago and they are raising a daughter. California law allows marriages involving transsexuals.

"This is a huge case," Minter said. "If we were to lose, I'm very fearful about what that would mean for us."

Supporters of Proposition 8, which was approved by 52 percent of California voters, will be led Thursday by Ken Starr, the independent counsel who famously investigated President Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

A brief filed with the court by the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative group that supports Proposition 8, says gays are not unfairly singled out by the proposition.

The group's brief argues that it also puts restrictions on polygamists -- and that "confining marriage to heterosexual monogamy" would not require a revision of the state Constitution.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown has made clear his opposition to Proposition 8 by filing a brief arguing that the state Constitution makes certain rights fundamental, such as equality, and that the California Supreme Court's 2008 ruling included marriage as one of those rights.

Robin Tyler was one of the original plaintiffs who won their case last year. Tyler, who married her lesbian partner in Beverly Hills last June, is again a lead plaintiff this year.

She wrote in Monday's San Francisco Chronicle that her case is a basic matter of civil rights.

"If the court does rule for us, tens of thousands of us will be on the streets that night celebrating a great victory, not just for us but for everyone," she said.

"But if we lose and Prop 8 stands, even if the court rules to uphold existing same-sex marriages, hundreds of thousands of us will be on the streets, angrier than we have ever been."


Article taken from AFP.