Friday, March 12, 2004
California Supreme Court Blocks San Francisco Same-Sex Marriages
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The California Supreme Court yesterday ordered an immediate halt to same-sex marriages in San Francisco.
The justices issued an order to show cause, requiring local officials to explain the legal basis of their claim that they have the authority to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Proposition 22, an initiative statute enacted in 1998, supplemented the previous marriage statute by declaring that ě[o]nly marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.î
Until the OSC is resolved, the court said, Mayor Gavin Newsom and his administration must “refrain from issuing marriage licenses or certificates not authorized” by California marriage laws. Arguments are likely to be heard in May or June, the Administrative Office of the Courts said in a release.
The high court limited its order to the issue of whether city officials have the right, in the absence of a judicial ruling, to violate the ban on same-sex marriage because they believe it to be unconstitutional. The parties were ordered to address the effect of Art. III, Sec. 3.5 of the state Constitution and of any other statutes or constitutional provisions that may be relevant to that issue.
Any party wishing to challenge the constitutionality of the same-sex marriage ban itself, the court said, may do so in superior court.
Sec. 3.5 provides, among other things, that ěan administrative agency...has no power...[t]o declare a statute unenforceable, or refuse to enforce a statute, on the basis of it being unconstitutional unless an appellate court has made a determination that such statute is unconstitutional.î
The dispute began Feb. 12, when Newsom ordered his administration to issue same-sex marriage licenses. A steady stream of gay couples from around the country have traveled to be married at City Hall, just a block from the Supreme Court.
More than 3,700 couples having tied the knot in San Francisco so far.
The action by California’s highest court came two weeks after state Attorney General Bill Lockyer and a conservative group asked the seven justices to immediately block the gay marriages.
The justices ěrestored order to chaos in San Francisco,” said Joshua Carden, an attorney with the conservative Alliance Defense Fund. Newsom’s spokesman, Peter Ragone, said the city would comply with the ruling as soon as officials receive the order.
Jon Davidson, an attorney for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a gay rights legal aid group, said the ruling simply puts the issue on hold for now.
“The court has put everything on pause rather than stop,” he said. “They are saying that until we hear this, you are on pause.”
Newsom’s defiance of California law prompted several other cities across the country to follow suit, and President George W. Bush last month said he would back a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages.
Lockyer and the Alliance Defense Fund said the court’s action was urgently needed because thousands of newly married gays might otherwise think they enjoy the same rights granted other married couples — such as the right to receive the other spouse’s property in the absence of a will.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement yesterday afternoon:
“I believe very strongly that the people should obey the laws that we have here in California.† I am pleased to learn the justices of the California Supreme Court determined this matter to be an issue of fundamental statewide importance. The judicial system is the appropriate venue for resolving questions pertaining to the constitutionality of our state laws. The Attorney General’s work persuading the California Supreme Court should be commended so that we can have a swift orderly resolution to this issue.”
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company