BY LISA LEFF The Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO -- A crowd gathered at San Francisco City Hall applauded the news that the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way Wednesday for same-sex marriages to resume in California, but the reaction was shaded by the knowledge that the high court had sidestepped the larger question of whether banning gay marriages is unconstitutional.
The justices voted 5-4 to let stand a trial court's August 2010 ruling that overturned the state's voter-approved gay marriage ban, holding that the coalition of religious conservative groups that qualified Proposition 8 for the ballot did not have authority to defend it after state officials refused to do so.
Governor Brown's statement on Proposition 8
SACRAMENTO -- Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today issued the following statement on the United States Supreme Court ruling on Proposition 8 (Hollingsworth v. Perry):
"After years of struggle, the U.S. Supreme Court today has made same-sex marriage a reality in California. In light of the decision, I have directed the California Department of Public Health to advise the state's counties that they must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California as soon as the Ninth Circuit confirms the stay is lifted," said Governor Brown.
The effect of today's U.S. Supreme Court ruling is that the 2010 federal district court's decision that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional is left intact and the law cannot be enforced.
In response, the Governor has directed the California Department of Public Health to advise county officials today that the district court's injunction against Proposition 8 applies statewide and that all county clerks and county registrar/recorders must comply with it. However, same-sex Californians will not be able to marry until the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals confirms the stay of the injunction, which has been in place throughout the appeals process, is lifted.
In preparation for this outcome, Governor Brown sought an opinion from California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris on whether the state, through the California Department of Public Health, can advise county clerks and registrar/recorders that they are bound by the federal district court's ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.
The Attorney General concluded that the California Department of Public Health "can and should" instruct county officials that they "must resume issuing marriage licenses to and recording the marriages of same-sex" couples. The Department will issue another letter to county officials as soon as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals confirms the stay is lifted.
Key events in California’s gay marriage debate
Some important dates in California’s battle over same-sex marriage:
— 1975: Gov. Jerry Brown signs legislation repealing criminal penalties for adultery, oral sex and sodomy between consenting adults.
— 1977: Responding to claims that the state’s "gender-neutral" marriage statute left room for gays and lesbians to wed, the California Legislature amends the Family Code to define marriage as "a personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman."
— 1999: The Legislature establishes domestic partner rules giving registered same-sex couples limited rights previously available only to married spouses, including the right to visit each other in the hospital.
— 2000: Proposition 22 further amends the Family Code to state that "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California" after passing with support from 61 percent of voters.
— 2003: Gov. Gray Davis signs legislation granting registered domestic partners nearly all remaining rights and responsibilities available to married spouses under California law. The measure, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2005, requires domestic partners to pay alimony and child support in a divorce.
— Feb. 12, 2004: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom directs city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Couples from all over the country line up for the chance to wed. In Sacramento, Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, introduces legislation to amend the Family Code to define marriage as an institution arising out of a civil contract between "two persons."
— March 11, 2004: After four weeks and with more than 4,000 marriage licenses issued, the California Supreme Court halts San Francisco’s same-sex weddings. The city and gay advocacy groups respond by suing to overturn the state’s marriage laws.
— Aug. 12, 2004: The California Supreme Court voids all gay marriages sanctioned in San Francisco, ruling that the mayor lacked the authority to go against state law. The ruling does not address questions about the constitutionality of the state’s gay marriage ban.
— March 14, 2005: San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer rules that California’s law limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman is unconstitutional.
— Sept. 6, 2005: A bill legalizing same-sex marriage passes California’s Assembly five days after it is approved by the Senate.
— Sept. 29, 2005: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoes it, saying the issue should be left up to voters or judges.
— Oct. 5, 2006: A state appeals court rules that California’s ban on gay marriage doesn’t violate the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians, overturning Judge Kramer’s ruling.
— Oct. 12, 2007: Schwarzenegger vetoes a second bill to legalize same-sex marriage, saying voters and the state Supreme Court should decide the issue.
— May 15, 2008: California Supreme Court overturns voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, clearing the way for California to become the second state to allow gays and lesbians to marry.
— June 16, 2008: The California Supreme Court’s ruling allowing same-sex marriage in the state becomes effective. Gay couples line up to wed across the state.
— Nov. 4, 2008: Following the most expensive campaign on a social issue in California history, voters approve Proposition 8, a ballot measure that amends the state constitution to limit marriage to a union between a man and a woman. About 18,000 gay couples have married during the five-month window before it takes effect the next day.
— May 22, 2009: Two same-sex couples sue in federal court to overturn to Proposition 8 as a violation of their civil rights under the U.S. Constitution. The American Foundation for Equal Rights retains Theodore Olson and David Boies, the high-profile lawyers who represented opposing sides in the disputed 2000 presidential election, to represent them.
— May 26, 2009: The California Supreme Court upholds Proposition 8. It also rules that the gay couples who wed before the ban took effect will stay married.
— Jan. 11, 2010: In the San Francisco courtroom of Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, Proposition 8 becomes the subject of the first-ever federal trial to examine the constitutionality of state bans on gay marriage. Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown refuse to defend the initiative on behalf of the state, leaving the job to Proposition 8’s sponsors.
— Aug. 4, 2010: Walker strikes down Proposition 8 as a violation of gay Californians’ civil rights.
— April 25, 2011: Proponents of Proposition 8 file a motion seeking to vacate the ruling that overturned it because Walker is gay.
— June 14, 2011: Federal Judge James Ware concludes Walker had no obligation to reveal his relationship or recuse himself.
— Dec. 6, 2011: The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hears arguments on Proposition 8 in a court session that reaches a nationwide TV audience.
— Feb. 7, 2012: The 9th Circuit rules Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, saying it serves no purpose other than to "lessen the status and human dignity" of gays.
— Dec. 7, 2012: The U.S. Supreme Court agrees to take up Proposition 8.
— March 26, 2012: The Supreme Court hears arguments on the constitutionality of California’s gay marriage ban.
—June 26, 2013: The Supreme Court votes 5-4 to let stand Walker’s ruling striking down Prop 8, holding that the coalition of religious conservative groups that qualified the initiative for the ballot did not have authority to defend it after state officials refused to do so.
— The Associated Press
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- Supreme Court strikes down DOMA as unconstitutional
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- Brown: Counties must comply with gay marriage
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- Court: At least 25 days before California gay marriage
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- What they said: Excerpts from the Supreme Court gay marriage rulings
- Social Media: Reaction to Prop 8, DOMA rulings
The practical effect of that outcome, however, is likely to be more legal wrangling before the state will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples for the first time since Proposition 8 passed in November 2008.
Lawyers for the ban's sponsors have said that if that was the outcome, they would fight to keep the lower court decision from applying to more than the two couples who were the original plaintiffs in the long-running case.
"While it is unfortunate that the court's ruling does not directly resolve questions about the scope of the trial court's order against Prop 8, we will continue to defend Prop 8 and seek its enforcement until such time as there is a binding statewide order that renders Prop 8. unenforceable," Andy Pugno, a lawyer for the ban's supporters said.
The uncertainty has made it impossible for anyone to say when gay marriage might resume in California, where such unions were legal for 4 1/2 months and an estimated 18,000 couples tied the knot before Proposition 8's passage.
Under one scenario outlined by gay marriage advocates, it could happen as soon as Thursday, once the midlevel appeals court that also invalidated Proposition 8 lifts a hold it put on the lower court order while the litigation made its way to the Supreme Court. But city and state officials said they think the earliest marriage licenses could be extended to same-sex couples would be the end of July, to give Proposition 8's sponsors time to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider.
Many activists had hoped the court would strike down bans on gay marriage across the nation as unconstitutional.
The battle over same-sex marriage in California started at City Hall in 2004, when then-mayor Gavin Newsom ordered city clerks to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. On Wednesday, he brought the biggest cheers from the City Hall gathering when he said that San Francisco is a city of "doers" that not only tolerates diversity, but celebrates it every day.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera called the ruling a great victory. He said people criticized the city in 2004, saying it was moving too fast in granting marriage licenses. But Herrera said he believes the only way to get things done is to "kick down the door."
The measured enthusiasm contrasted with the exuberant cheers that greeted word minutes earlier that the Supreme Court had struck down a federal law that prevents the U.S. government from granting marriage benefits to gay couples.