Calif. high court upholds gay marriage ban

May 26, 2009 7:08:42 PM PDT
The California Supreme Court upheld Prop 8 Tuesday, the voter initiative banning same-sex marriage in the state, by a 6-1 vote. In a split-decision, state justices upheld the 18,000 existing marriages that already took place.

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This has been a long road for same-sex couples who want to be married. The court's decision handed down Tuesday morning now solidifies Prop 8 in the state constitution, but it also leaves thousands of couples with the same rights as their straight counterparts.

Outside the California Supreme Court the crowd reacted to the news. Same-sex marriage advocates were clearly unhappy with the court's decision to uphold Prop 8.

"That was the voice of the people. The voice of the people in California amended the constitution to specify what marriage is. So yeah, it should have been upheld, clearly," said Prop 8 supporter Bradley Haage.

"I will be the first to say that the majority got it wrong," said San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera.

After seeing five states approve marriage in recent years, the ruling came as a disappointment to those who have led the fight for what they call equality.

"Today's ruling doesn't mean marriage equality will never be achieved. It simply means that in the end we can't rely on the courts to secure it," said Herrera.

In their ruling, the justices said they "by no means write on a clean slate." In a unanimous opinion, the court ruled that the more than 18,000 same-sex couples will still be recognized as legally married.

Jewelle Gomez and Diane Sabin were plaintiffs in the case. They are now among the few thousand same-sex couples in the state who can say they are legally married.

"I feel both sad and excited," said Gomez. "I feel like it's really impossible for us to maintain two levels of citizens in this state -- that's impossible. And while I'm happy that our marriage stands, what about others who would like to married?"

Many people anticipated Tuesday's ruling, but no one expected such a majority in favor. ABC7 legal analyst Dean Johnson says the message from the high court was clear.

"I think that the fact that the vote was 6-1 is a resounding message from the court saying, 'Look, we understand the changes society is going through, but we're not going to impose those changes from the top. If you want to change the institution of marriage go out and convince the rest of the voters,'" said Johnson.

That is exactly what same-sex supporters intend to do. They have already launched a campaign called "Win Marriage Back," and they hope to collect enough signatures to put this issue back on the ballot perhaps as early as next year.

Attorney General Jerry Brown and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom are both staunch supporters of same-sex marriage rights, and both say they expect the ruling to be ultimately be overturned.

"We've got to go back to the voters. The three branches of government are made irrelevant. The executive, legislative branch and the courts cannot protect the rights of a minority in the state of California," said Newsom. "I didn't think I'd live to see that be the case, but that's the case."

"I think the court took a narrow view of its job, its duty, to protect fundamental liberties," said Brown. "Once the court declared that same-sex marriage was an aspect of liberty, then I believe they had the duty to uphold that right."

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement saying, " While I believe that one day either the people or courts will recognize gay marriage, as governor of California I will uphold the decision of the California Supreme Court. Regarding the 18,000 marriages that took place prior to Proposition 8's passage, the court made the right decision in keeping them intact."

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More reactions from both sides of the issue

"As Catholic bishops we are strongly committed to protecting the dignity and worth of every human person. We endorse the intent of law to provide equal protection for all. However, such purpose does not have to trump the natural and traditional definition of marriage between a man and a woman. The law has found other ways to regulate civil unions without destroying the traditional understanding of marriage." -- The Most Rev. Stephen E. Blaire, California Catholic Conference of Bishops.

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"Today's ruling by the Supreme Court in support of Proposition 8 is deeply disappointing because this ballot initiative takes away individual rights. I have long fought for equality for all of California's families and will strongly support efforts to restore marriage equality in California, so it can join the ranks of states such as Iowa and Vermont." -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.

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"We're very encouraged by the Supreme Court choosing to yield power to the will of the people. We expect celebrations across the state." -- Ron Prentice, chairman of Yes on 8 campaign.

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"This is a dark day, a dark day in California. We are going to keep on working. We're going to have a conversation in this state" about restoring gay marriage. -- Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat.

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"While I expected the narrow, technical reasoning behind the California Supreme Court's decision, still I grieve for the state's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people whose rights and dignity have been under assault since the passage of Proposition 8." -- Rev. William G. Sinkford, president, Unitarian Universalist Association.

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"In America, we respect the results of fair elections. The California Supreme Court arrived at the only correct conclusion available: The people of California have a fundamental right to amend their own constitution." -- Austin R. Nimocks, senior legal counsel, Alliance Defense Fund.

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"It's about so much more than just marriage. This decision sets a dangerous precedent. It lets voters -- frankly, in their mob mentality -- make decisions for minority groups." -- Sheva Diagne, 22, gay marriage activist from San Francisco.

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"There was much more at stake today than even the issue of gay marriage, as important and emotional as it is for so many people on both sides of the issue. If the Court had overturned Proposition 8, it would have had set a terrible legal precedent, divided Californians even further (and) undermined support for the judiciary and state government." -- Steve Poizner, California insurance commissioner, GOP candidate for governor.

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