California Appeals Court Urged to Uphold Lower Courts Ruling Allowing Same-Sex Couples to Marry
(San Francisco, Wednesday, November 9, 2005) — In a brief filed today in the California Court of Appeal in San Francisco, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the ACLU explain why the trial court was correct in ruling that under California’s constitution, same-sex couples cannot be barred from marrying.
“The California Constitution guarantees each of us the right to choose the person with whom we wish to join in marriage. The State is violating this fundamental right by excluding same-sex couples from marriage because of their gender and sexual orientation,” the brief states. “Marriage is far more than a bundle of tangible benefits. It is a status of profound personal, social, and often spiritual affirmation, expressing the commitment of two individuals to one another ‘for better or for worse.’”
A favorable lower court ruling issued last spring by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer said, “Simply put, same-sex marriage cannot be prohibited solely because California has always done so before.” 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.”
“The lower court got it right — the California State Constitution requires equality and same-sex couples are not being treated equally as long as they can’t marry,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel in the Western Regional Office of Lambda Legal. “At the end of the day what we’re talking about here is love and family. Same-sex couples should be able to express their devotion to each other, and the equal dignity of their families, without the state deciding that only different-sex couples get to do that.”
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 California Supreme 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.
Lambda Legal and the ACLU joined lead counsel, the National Center for Lesbian Rights in filing the lawsuit last year seeking marriage licenses for same-sex couples in California, arguing that denying marriage to these 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, organizations that educate the public about why same-sex couples need the equal right 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 marriage under that state’s constitution.
Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel and Jon Davidson, Legal Director are handling the case for Lambda Legal. They join lead counsel Shannon Minter and Courtney Joslin at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Co-counsel also include Tamara Lange at the ACLU of Northern California; Christine Sun at the ACLU of Southern California; Stephen Bomse and Christopher Stoll at Heller Ehrman White and McAuliffe; Clyde Wadsworth at Steefel Levitt & Weiss; and David C. Codell.