While the usual procession of heterosexual couples beamed as they said their wedding vows on City Hall's Grand Staircase this morning, a historic celebration took place in the South Light Court: hundreds applauded the announcement that same-sex couples are a big step closer to achieving equality in the basic right to marry.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held today that Proposition 8, which eliminated same sex marriage rights for couples in California, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The court ruled that Prop. 8 served no purpose but to discriminate against one class of people, and the Constitution does not allow for “laws of this sort.”
The ruling specifically addressed the arguments advanced by proponents of Prop 8 that gay marriage would interfere with childrearing and religious freedom in the state.
“All parties agree that Proposition 8 had one effect only. It stripped same-sex couples…of the right to obtain and use the designation ‘marriage’ to describe their relationships. Nothing more, nothing less,” the judges wrote.
The ruling does not mean that marriage licenses will immediately be issued to same sex couples. A stay on the ruling has not been lifted. But the stay could be lifted in as early as 21 days from now. But more probably, it will take months or even years; the case is likely to go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Chief Deputy City Attorney Terry Stewart – the lead attorney that defended San Francisco's 2004 decision to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, which later triggered the Prop. 8 campaign – said the city is eager to see marriage equality, and that “city mechanisms and machinery stand ready to do whatever we can to expedite the process.”
The decision was based partly on logic that, since LGBTQ Californians already have parental rights and the right to domestic partnerships, denying them the right to marry could not be rationalized. City Attorney Dennis Herrera said that this is a “narrow decision,” meaning that if the Supreme Court upholds the ruling, it would apply only to California.
There remains a possibility that the Supreme Court will reject the case, and in that situation the Ninth Circuit decision striking down Prop. 8 would take immediate affect.
Members of the Bay Area coalition of Welcoming Congregations were present at the announcement.
“I’m jubilant,” said Rev. Roland Stringfellow of the Pacific School of Theology in Berkeley. “When it comes to equality, this is something we preach.”
He adding that his church had been performing same-sex marriages since the 1970s, and that he eagerly awaits legal recognition of his own union with his partner.
Sup. Scott Wiener acknowledged, “the fight is not over yet.”
But he said, “Every so often we get a court ruling that reaffirms our faith in the judicial system…this is a time for us to come together and celebrate.”
California political leaders issued several statements praised the court's decision.
“The court has rendered a powerful affirmation of the right of same-sex couples to marry. I applaud the wisdom and courage of this decision,” said Gov. Jerry Brown.
Mayor Ed Lee issued a statement saying:
“I celebrate the decision by the Ninth Circuit Court today. This is a great day for marriage equality and a great day for California families. The Court affirmed today that there is nothing in the Constitution that allows discrimination and we are on our way to protecting the fundamental rights of everyone in our State. And, we will continue the fight until everyone is treated equally.
“San Francisco stands ready to begin marrying same sex couples, and we remain as deeply committed to the fight for marriage equality today as we did nearly eight years ago when then Mayor Gavin Newsom started one of the most important civil rights issues of our generation to ensure equality for all.
“I would also like to acknowledge the tireless work of our City Attorney Dennis Herrera and his team in defense of marriage equality and the California Constitution these last eight years. Together, we will take this fight all the way to the nation’s highest court, if necessary.”