Thursday, May 15, 2008

Court to rule on same-sex marriage Thursday

California's Supreme Court will deliver a decision today on whether the state's statutory ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional, a bellwether ruling for the nation that could alter the issue's framing for years to come.

At issue is whether marriage is a fundamental civil right only when it is between one man and one woman, or when it's between any two people.

Several same-sex couples and advocacy groups, joined by the city and county of San Francisco — which ratcheted up the rhetoric by issuing same-sex marriage licenses in 2004, only to see them voided by this court — argue that California law's ban violates same-sex couples' equal-protection rights and has no rational purpose.

The state and two conservative groups claim there's no right to same-sex marriage, and that California's citizens and lawmakers should define marriage, not the courts.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments March 4; the justices' questions proved tough for both sides, and didn't clearly indicate how the court is likely to rule.

Arguing against same-sex marriage in these six consolidated cases are the state attorney general's office, which is duty-bound to defend existing state law; the conservative nonprofit Campaign for California Families; and the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund, named for the 2000 ballot measure passed by 61 percent of voters to reinforce state law's pre-existing ban on same-sex marriage.

Arguing Advertisementfor the right to same-sex marriage are the city and county of San Francisco as well as a number of same-sex couples and gay-rights groups represented by a legal team led by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and including Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, and several law firms.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer in March 2005 found for same-sex marriage; the state Court of Appeals overturned his ruling with a 2-1 decision in October 2006; and the state Supreme Court unanimously agreed to review the case in December 2006.

State officials are verifying petition signatures submitted last month by same-sex marriage opponents to put on November's ballot a constitutional amendment providing that only marriage between a man and a woman be valid or recognized in California. Today's ruling, no matter who prevails, surely will affect the dynamics of such a campaign should the amendment qualify for the ballot.

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