Calif. High Court Upholds Gay Marriage Ban

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The California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, the voter-approved ban on same sex marriage. But it also ruled that an estimated 18,000 gay couples who wed before the law took effect will remain married.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

The other big legal news today, outside of the president's Supreme Court nomination, was the California Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage. Today, the court upheld Proposition 8. That's the state's ban on same-sex marriage, which voters approved last year.

In San Francisco, hundreds of demonstrators gathered at the courthouse to protest the ruling.

Unidentified People: Equality now. Equality now.

BLOCK: NPR's Richard Gonzales has more on today's decision.

RICHARD GONZALES: Long before the courthouse crowd started gathering, gay activists were expecting to lose today. But they had hope until the ruling finally came down. In a six to one decision, the court rejected the argument that Prop. 8 was an illegal revision of the state's constitution. Chief Justice Ron George wrote: Californians have a right, through the ballot box, to amend the constitution with ballot initiatives.

In the crowd, reaction was swift from Prop. 8 opponents, who called the ruling a major defeat for civil rights. Many couples held hands as word of the decision sifted through the crowd. Jeff Cileoni(ph) shook his head with dismay.

Mr. JEFF CILEONI: This is exactly what I thought was going to happen. It's exactly it. And we're not going to stop. We're going to keep fighting, no matter what.

GONZALES: Though greatly outnumbered, there were people in the courthouse crowd who cheered today's ruling. Bradley Hague(ph) said the court was right to uphold Prop. 8 because the gay marriage ban represents the will of the people.

Mr. BRADLEY HAGUE: Obviously, I'm excited that Prop. 8 was upheld, as it should've been, given that the voice of the people had amended the constitution to specify that marriage is between a man and a woman. So any court that's going to overrule that is just totally out of place.

GONZALES: The court did strike something of a compromise today. It refused to overturn the marriages of 18,000 gay couples who rushed to the altar in the five months that gay marriage was legal in California.

In Los Angeles, Robin Tyler and Diane Olson were relieved, but Olson said there was no reason to celebrate.

Ms. DIANE OLSON: Am I happy our marriage still stands? Yes. And it's awkward for me that I may have the privileges and the right of being married, and so many of our community cannot. That doesn't feel real good to me.

GONZALES: The couple were plaintiffs in one of the gay marriage cases reviewed by the Supreme Court. Tyler says the fight over Prop. 8 is still far from over.

Ms. ROBIN TYLER: We will become the love warriors now. We will be an army of love warriors, probably putting it back on the ballot and fighting for it again. Only this time, unlike last summer, we will go from door to door and knock on every door, and have people get to know us so they can see we're just like they are.

GONZALES: Last year's battle over Prop. 8 was the most expensive referendum campaign in California history. Mormons and other religious groups spent millions of dollars urging voters to pass the same-sex marriage ban. Many of them are now gearing up for round two. So are Prop. 8 opponents, who vow to work harder for support in black and Latino communities. The question remains, will the next battle be fought at the ballot box or the U.S. Supreme Court?

Pepperdine University Law professor Douglas Kmiec thinks a court battle is more likely, since California is recognizing the marriage of some gay couples, while prohibiting others.

Professor DOUGLAS KMIEC (Constitutional Law, Pepperdine University): And the argument will be that drawing these distinctions among your citizens is just simply irrational. There's not a single rational basis that you've been able to put forward to justify it, other than the fact that you've allowed the people to have their say by proposition. And I think the federal court will strike that down as a matter of federal equal protection.

GONZALES: Today, the California Supreme Court is in the odd position of upholding Prop. 8 just a year after approving same-sex marriage in California. Back then, the justices said gay couples in California had a fundamental right to marry. But Prop. 8 changed that. Today, the court essentially said whether or not you like the measure, it meets all the legal tests.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

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