California State Court Says Same-Sex Couples Must Be Allowed To Marry; Lambda Legal Says Ruling Is Powerful, Historic and Legally Solid
Lambda Legal, NCLR and the ACLU filed the case under the state Constitution, saying gay Californians weren't being treated equally under the law unless they could marry
(San Francisco, March 14, 2005) — A California state trial court ruled today that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry, in a decision that Lambda Legal called “a historic breakthrough for couples who need the protections and security marriage provides.”
In a 27-page decision issued this afternoon in San Francisco, California Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer said that lesbian and gay people’s basic rights are violated if they aren’t allowed to marry. The decision said the California Constitution requires same-sex couples to have equal access to marriage, and that the couples represented by Lambda Legal, NCLR and the ACLU must be given marriage licenses.
“We’re still a little stunned – but we’re overjoyed,” said Lancy Woo, a 38-year-old lifelong San Francisco resident who is the lead plaintiff in the case with her partner, Cristy Chung, 40. “Our six-year-old daughter, Olivia, is just beginning to understand how the world works, and we can’t wait to talk with her about today’s ruling. We’ve always taught that her that our family is based on love, just like other families, and this ruling confirms that our family shouldn’t be treated any differently by our government.”
“This is a historic ruling that says the freedoms guaranteed in our state’s Constitution belong to all Californians,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel for Lambda Legal in the Western Regional Office and its lead attorney on the case. “The court recognized that same-sex couples aren’t treated equally under the law unless we can marry. This ruling says that same-sex couples deserve all the protections and security marriage provides and that we’re entitled to get them the same way straight couples do.”
In today’s ruling, Judge Kramer said California laws that prohibit same-sex couples from marrying violate people’s fundamental rights. “Simply put, same-sex marriage cannot be prohibited solely because California has always done so before,” Kramer’s ruling said. The decision also said, “The idea that marriage-like rights without marriage is adequate smacks of a concept long rejected by the courts: separate but equal.” Judge Kramer will hold a hearing on March 30 to finalize the ruling, and the state can then appeal the case.
Appointed by Republican Governor Pete Wilson in 1996, Judge Kramer has handled both civil and criminal cases in California Superior Court. Before becoming a jurist, Judge Kramer specialized in banking litigation for 25 years.
Five of the 12 couples who are plaintiffs in the case had appointments to be married in San Francisco last year but were turned away after the state Supreme Court ordered the city to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. From February 12 to March 11, 2004, the City of San Francisco issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples after Mayor Gavin Newsom determined that the state Constitution’s guarantees of equality and due process required him to issue licenses to same-sex couples. The state’s high court eventually ruled that Newsom did not have the authority to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples before the state courts had reviewed the constitutionality of the law limiting licenses to different-sex couples only, and invalidated the marriages of over 4,000 same-sex couples.
“It’s particularly rewarding to get this ruling just a year after thousands of same-sex couples came forward and took their marriage vows in San Francisco. Right after officials stopped issuing marriage licenses in San Francisco last March, we filed this lawsuit to resolve this once and for all for lesbian and gay couples statewide,” Pizer said. “We sought full marriage – nothing more and nothing less – and that’s what we got with this ruling. This is a powerful decision that’s legally solid and well-grounded in the California Constitution.”
Lambda Legal, NCLR and the ACLU filed the lawsuit last year seeking marriage licenses for same-sex couples in California, arguing that denying marriage to same-sex couples violates the state Constitution’s guarantees of equality, liberty, privacy and expression for all Californians. In addition to a diverse group of lesbian and gay couples, the case includes Our Families Coalition and Equality California, agencies that educate the public about why same-sex couples need equal freedom to get married. The case was the first of its kind to be filed in California since the Massachusetts high court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to full marriage under that state’s Constitution.
Last month, Lambda Legal won a similar trial court decision in New York which says that state’s Constitution requires New York City to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The city appealed that ruling directly to New York’s highest court. Lambda Legal is awaiting a decision from a mid-level state appeals court in New Jersey in a similar case seeking marriage equality. On March 8, Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women’s Law Center argued at the Washington Supreme Court in a case seeking marriage for same-sex couples under the Washington Constitution; the trial court in that case ruled last summer that gay couples must be allowed to marry.
In addition to Pizer, Jon Davidson, Legal Director at Lambda Legal, is handling the case, Woo, et al. v. Lockyer, et al. Other attorneys on the case include: Courtney Joslin and Shannon Minter at lead counsel National Center for Lesbian Rights; Alan Schlosser at the ACLU of Northern California; Christine Sun and Peter Eliasberg at the ACLU of Southern California; Stephen Bomse, Richard Denatale and Christopher Stoll at Heller Ehrman White and McAuliffe; Dena Narbaitz and Clyde Wadsworth at Steefel Levitt & Weiss; and David C. Codell.