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Closing arguments were heard two weeks ago in the landmark case challenging California’s Proposition 8 in federal court. A historic decision is expected at any moment. Here is a brief history of the case and what the future holds:
In 2008, the California Supreme Court found that the California Constitution gives same-sex couples the same rights to marriage as heterosexual couples, and same-sex marriage was permitted in the state for the first time.
In response, opponents rallied financial support from religious and conservative groups across the country to put a constitutional amendment on the California ballot. Proposition 8 stated that marriage shall be only between one man and one woman.
Five months later, after a heavily funded campaign by these opponents, Proposition 8 was approved by 52% of the voters, and California could no longer allow same-sex marriages. Marriages performed during the months when they were legal remained valid.
Federal Case Filing:
Pro-equality groups began an intensive campaign to change the hearts and minds of ordinary citizens toward equality in marriage. A challenge to Proposition 8 was filed in U.S. District Court by two seasoned legal professionals. Attorneys Theodore Olson and David Boies opposed each other in the Bush/Gore presidential election court battle in 2000, and now represent two same-sex couples from the San Francisco Bay Area who were denied marriage licenses after the passage of Proposition 8. The lawsuit claims that the ban is a violation of the equal-protection rights afforded by the U.S. Constitution and is an unlawful form of discrimination.
It is interesting that California’s Attorney General and Governor, who would normally defend any action against the state, have refused to defend the ban in Court. The Attorney General has filed a brief agreeing with the plaintiffs that gay and lesbian partners have the same rights to marriage as heterosexual couples. The Governor has taken no position on the case.
In their place, some of the original sponsors of Proposition 8 have joined the case to defend it before the Court. These are primarily proponents of a religious and family values agenda that view same-sex marriage as immoral and damaging to “traditional marriage” as they define it.
Issues During Trial:
In the early hearing stages, there was a major issue regarding whether video coverage of the trial would be permitted. Supporters of Proposition 8 stated that broadcasting court proceedings would expose their witnesses to threats and intimidation. The issue was submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided that no video coverage would be allowed. This was a blow to the various equal rights organizations that support the lawsuit. A hearing of this historic significance should be as open to the public as possible.
Expert witnesses for the plaintiffs testified that they believe both history and research show that gays and lesbians will inevitably earn the right to marry. They and others believe that Proposition 8 is part of a long history of bias against homosexuals that has denied them equal rights on nearly every level. Discrimination of all kinds makes second-class citizens of gays and lesbians and is inherently unfair. Equal treatment is a constitutional right.
Witnesses for the defendants supporting Proposition 8 testified that heterosexual marriages would be severely damaged if same-sex couples are permitted to marry. They were unable to demonstrate exactly how or why such damage would occur. They stated that that it takes a man and a woman to properly raise children, and the purpose of marriage is procreation. These arguments are not grounded in reality. Millions of heterosexual couples are married without having children. Millions of children are being raised by single parents.
When the Decision is Handed Down:
A decision is expected any day now, but no matter which side wins the lawsuit, it is just the first step in a legal process that will eventually take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court. Equal rights organizations must work even harder to help the public understand how important the right to marry is for all citizens, not just for heterosexual couples. The next year or two will be very interesting, and a critical time in the evolution of human and civil rights.
This article is part of an ongoing series of articles pertaining to legal issues in the LGBT community.
Previous articles can be reviewed at www.heritagelegal.com . This information is intended for general information purposes only, and is not intended to provide legal advice. Christopher Heritage is an attorney in Palm Springs, and San Diego, CA, who focuses on LGBT estate planning, domestic partnerships, same-sex marriage, probate, trust administration, and consumer bankruptcy. He welcomes questions and comments, and can be contacted at 760.325.2020, or by email: email@example.com