News Column

Californians React to Supreme Court Arguments on Gay Marriage Ban

March 27, 2013

Anita Creamer

gay marriage

After Tuesday's historic arguments before the Supreme Court on the legality of California's gay marriage ban, the long wait began for the court's June decision.

But the debate over Proposition 8, the state's 2008 ballot initiative, raged on among advocates and legal experts. Hundreds of gay-rights activists planned demonstrations in San Francisco and on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento, and hundreds more demonstrated -- both for and against same-sex marriage -- at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington.

California's gay and lesbian couples remain on hold for now, uncertain about the outcome but hopeful that the court will recognize their desire to marry as an equal right under law.

"I have a good feeling that this is a new beginning," said Sacramentan Diana Luiz, 52, who would like to marry her partner of seven years, Nicola Simmersbach.

"This may be one of the great civil rights fights we'll have in this country. I feel like it's time," Luiz said. "I'm excited, and I'm tired of waiting."

The proposition's author, Folsom attorney Andy Pugno, was optimistic, as well.

"I thought we had a great day in the Supreme Court," he said, as he walked to lunch after attending the hearing in Washington. "We clearly made the winning case for Proposition 8 and are looking forward to a good decision upholding the vote of California."

But some legal experts considered his optimism unfounded, considering that the justices spent time discussing whether Pugno's advocacy group, Protect Marriage, should have the legal right to challenge the appellate ruling that reversed Proposition 8.

Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that California's passage of the ballot measure denied the state's gay and lesbian citizens a right they briefly had during a few months in 2008, when some 18,000 same-sex couples obtained marriage licenses.

"I don't think Andy should be thrilled, nor should anybody on his side," said McGeorge School of Law professor Larry Levine, who attended the oral arguments.

"I don't think the court will find there's no standing. They may write a narrow, substantive opinion like the 9th Circuit's. I think there's a likelihood that they'll strike down Proposition 8."

While Levine thinks the June ruling will apply only to California rather than breaking new ground on same-sex marriage nationally, UC Davis law professor Vikram Amar said it's possible the court will issue a broader civil rights ruling.

"But who knows what will happen when they write their opinion?" he said. "It didn't seem that the liberals on the court were in a great rush to decide in a sweeping direction, so we'll see."

Meanwhile, advocates for the gay and lesbian community scrambled to parse the potential meaning behind the tone and direction of the justices' questions.

For example, were the justices' concerns about the plaintiffs' legal standing an indication that they would rule on that issue alone?

"That would be incredibly disappointing," said Shara Murphy, executive director of the Sacramento Gay and Lesbian Center. "I hope they come through on the side of history. This is about equality. We have to draw a line in the sand.

"When something is so fundamental to the way we treat and respect one another, I hope they take a stand. I hope they won't punt on deciding this."

In San Francisco, Catholics for the Common Good President Bill May, whose organization was part of the coalition working to pass Proposition 8, worried that if the justices' rule in favor of same-sex marriage, traditional families will suffer.

"We have a terrible situation in the United States where the family is in collapse," he said. "Too many kids are deprived of a mother and father united in marriage, and there are tremendous consequences for that.

"What's being proposed with overturning Proposition 8 is the elimination of the only institution (that protects traditional families). I hope the justices realize that's what they are going to decide."

Almost five years ago, when same-sex marriage was briefly legal, Brenda and Lynda Ziviello-Howell rushed to get married, rightly fearful that the state would reconsider that right. They live in the tiny Butte County town of Magalia.

"Proposition 8 broke our hearts," said Brenda Ziviello-Howell, now 42. "It was a big bummer. It's like we were privileged to get married, but other friends were not able to do that.

"I'd love to have all the same rights that other couples have. It saddens me that we don't."

Polls show that an increasing number of Americans -- and more than 60 percent of Californians -- favor same-sex marriage, although Pugno disputes those numbers.

"They're the same polls that predicted Proposition 8 would be defeated," he said. "In any event, the overriding point is that polls and political endorsements are not relevant to how the court should interpret the U.S. Constitution."

Regardless of how the court rules and how broad or narrow its decision is, Levine thinks the ultimate outcome for same-sex marriage remains the same.

"We know how the story will end," said the McGeorge law professor. "In the next year or two or five, state after state after state will allow gays and lesbians to marry. It's pure demographics."

INSIDE THE COURTROOM

Proposition 8 "walls off gays and lesbians from marriage, the most important relation in life."

-- Attorney Theodore Olsen, arguing against Proposition 8

"Marriage itself is the institution that society has always used to regulate these heterosexual, procreative relationships."

-- Attorney Charles Cooper, arguing in support of Proposition 8

"You want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution (gay marriage) which is newer than cellphones or the Internet? I mean, we do not have the ability to see the future."

-- Justice Samuel Alito

"They want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of those children (of gay parents) is important in this case, don't you think?"

-- Justice Anthony Kennedy

OUTSIDE THE COURTROOM

"No amount of newfound political or legal firepower can replace the primary purpose of marriage, which is to increase the likelihood of children being raised by the mothers and fathers who brought them into this world."

-- Andy Pugno, Folsom attorney, Prop. 8 author

"I don't think Andy should be thrilled, nor should anybody on his side."

-- McGeorge School of Law professor Larry Levine

"But who knows what will happen when they write their opinion? It didn't seem that the liberals on the court were in a great rush to decide in a sweeping direction, so we'll see."

-- UC Davis law professor Vikram Amar

"I'd love to have all the same rights that other couples have. It saddens me that we don't."

-- Brenda Ziviello-Howell, 42, of Magalia, who married her partner in 2008

"Too many kids are deprived of a mother and father united in marriage, and there are tremendous consequences for that."

-- Bill May, president of Catholics for the Common Good

"I hope they come through on the side of history. This is about equality. We have to draw a line in the sand."

-- Shara Murphy, executive director of the Sacramento Gay and Lesbian Center

"If anyone can get married then marriage has no meaning."

-- Austin Ruse, 56, an opponent of same-sex marriage demonstrating on the steps of the Supreme Court

Sources: Sacramento Bee, McClatchy Washington Bureau, Associated Press



Source: (c)2013 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.


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