Gay marriage debate argued in California Supreme Court |

Gay marriage debate argued in California Supreme Court

Associated Press Writer
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezRonald Brock drives a truck with anti-gay marriage graphics outside city hall in San Francisco on Tuesday. The national gay marriage debate shifted to California Tuesday, as the state's highest court was hearing arguments on the constitutionality of voter-approved law banning same sex marriage.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) ” The California Supreme Court heard more than three hours of arguments by gay marriage supporters and opponents Tuesday on whether the state should join Massachusetts in legalizing same-sex marriages.

The seven justices asked whether California already protects the civil rights of gay and lesbian couples through domestic partnerships, and also wondered if a ruling 60 years ago legalizing interracial marriages in the state gave them a precedent for striking down the voter-approved same-sex marriage ban.

Gay rights advocates sued to overturn the ban four years ago after the court halted a wedding spree that saw thousands of gay and lesbian couples marry at San Francisco City Hall.

More than 4,000 couples exchanged vows at the direction of Mayor Gavin Newsom months before gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts, although the high court ultimately voided the unions.

“This Supreme Court has always been on the leading, cutting edge,” Newsom said Tuesday. “And I have great expectation, hope and confidence that the human beings that represent those with robes on today will represent the core principles in the Constitution and validate those principles.”

In front of the building where the hearing took place, some groups protested from the sidewalk, holding signs reading “Re-criminalize sodomy” and “Gay pervert.”

Counter protesters held signs reading “Stop ignorance. Being gay is not a choice” and “Your religion is not my government.”

In briefs submitted to the court, same-sex marriage supporters argued that California’s Constitution leaves no room for denying gay men and lesbians the right to wed.

While the state is one of a handful where gay couples are entitled to most of the same legal rights as married spouses, the institution of marriage is too important to allow for alternatives that are by definition inferior, they say.

The state and same-sex marriage opponents maintain, however, that limiting marriage to members of the opposite sex is reasonable ” not only to uphold tradition but because California voters approved a ballot initiative eight years ago bolstering the gay marriage ban that was in place at the time. To overturn that law would abrogate the rights of all Californians, they argue.

“A day may come when the people decide to legalize same-sex marriage. But such a social change should appropriately come from the people rather than the judiciary so long as constitutional rights are protected,” Deputy Attorney General Christopher Krueger wrote in a court brief.

A trial court judge in San Francisco agreed with gay rights advocates and voided the state’s marriage laws in April 2005. A midlevel appeals court overturned his decision in October 2006.

Since these California cases were filed, the top courts in six other states have been asked to legalize same-sex marriage.

New Jersey’s top court gave lawmakers the option of adopting civil unions as an alternative and a ruling is pending in Connecticut, but none of the other courts was persuaded.

Del Martin, 87, and Phyllis Lyon, 84, were the first pair to get married in San Francisco when Mayor Newsom directed his staff to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Feb. 12, 2004. At the time, they had been together for 51 years.

They are one of 23 couples suing the state, but poor health will keep them at home on Tuesday, they said.

“If they would go ahead and throw (the marriage ban) out, we could stagger up to the alter,” Lyon said with a grin.

The California Supreme Court has 90 days in which to rule following the hearing.