California Overturns Same-Sex Marriage Ban

The State Supreme Court in California has overturned a voter-approved ban on so-called "gay marriage," paving the way for the state to become the second in the United States where gay and lesbian couples can marry.

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BILL WOLFF: From NPR News in New York, this is the Bryant Park Project.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Overlooking historic Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, live from NPR Studios, this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR news. News, information, Balla the Busker. I'm Rachel Martin.

MIKE PESCA, host:

And I'm Mike Pesca. It's Friday, May 16th, 2008. Balla the Busker, a new beloved children's cartoon character?

MARTIN: No, no, no, no. Balla the Busker, a new beloved BPP champion of the busking competition.

PESCA: And what does he win for his championship?

MARTIN: Well, he won the esteemed privilege of coming in and playing for us.

PESCA: Now, it's funny how some people use the word win to mean one thing and some people use it to mean entirely another. And you had a Balla the Busker moment?

MARTIN: Yeah, I did. So Balla won our BPP busking competition that we held online, if you recall, if you were many of those folks that voted. Many of you did, thousands, I think. And Balla came in and played for us, Balla Tounkara. He's from Mali, a musician who plays something called the kora. and we had this lovely chat, this nice performance, and then I'm packing up my bags and heading out for the day, and I go to my subway station, 42nd Street, and I'm digging around for my Metro card, and I hear these mystical kind of sounds emanating, reverberating through the halls in the labyrinth that is the 42nd Street subway station and I thought, I know those sounds. That is Balla!

PESCA: Really?

MARTIN: It was. I walked in and there was Balla doing his thing on the subway platform. He gave me a big hug. We're best friends. I am going to sing back up on his new album.

PESCA: That's awesome. The same thing happened to me after I interviewed the political expert on West Virginia. He was just preaching in the subway the next day. All right, in addition to Balla, we'll also be talking about the never-ending Democratic primary season, and this next race will take us to Kentucky, and we will ask, who is Kentucky?

MARTIN: And the new movie dramatizes what has come to be known as the Haditha Massacre. That word in and of itself is debatable. We are going to talk with the director about the movie, as well as the star of the film, Elliot Ruiz. He is a 22-year-old former Marine who served in Iraq, was wounded, and he came home back to the States and went in to acting. It was an interesting conversation that we had with those two about that film. As we said, we are going to have an in-studio performance by Balla Tounkara, the winner of the BPP's online busking competition. We'll get the news headlines as well in just a minute. But first...

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Mayor GAVIN NEWSOM (San Francisco, California): What a day in San Francisco! What a day in California! What a day for America! What a day for equality!

MARTIN: That's San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom yesterday, after California's Supreme Court over turned the state's ban on gay marriage. The ruling opens the door for same-sex couples to begin trying the knot in 30 days.

PESCA: Sounded to me that Gavin Newsom was in favor of overturning the ban?

MARTIN: Little bit, yeah.

PESCA: Yes. OK. In the four-three decision, the court pointing to a ruling 60 years ago that struck down a ban on interracial marriage, and the court said that the ban on gay marriage is akin to racial segregation. San Francisco assistant city attorney, Terry Stewart, argued the case before the California Supreme Court. Here's how she explained the ruling.

Ms. TERRY STEWART (Assistant City Attorney, San Francisco): The Court recognized today the equal dignity of the committed relationships of lesbian and gay people, and it - even more, it recognized the fundamental equality of lesbian and gay citizens, period, whether in relationships or not.

MARTIN: You know this ruling might finally convince gay people to move to San Francisco.

PESCA: Well, the announcement sure touched off celebrations at San Francisco City Hall. Brad Aitken (ph) says he and his partner have already signed up.

Mr. BRAD AITKEN (Resident, San Francisco, California): We are feeling great. The first thing we did was go online and register to get our license at 8:15 on June 16th. We are scheduled to get married in the very first ceremony here at 10 o'clock.

PESCA: San Francisco city attorney, Dennis Herrera says, he hopes to see more decisions like that one in the future.

Mr. DENNIS HERRERA (City Attorney, San Francisco, California): We have taken a wonderful step forward to ensuring that we are going to have marriage equality, not just here in California, but hopefully throughout this country.

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MARTIN: Of course, not everyone is celebrating. James Dobson, chairman of the Christian group Focus on the Family, called the ruling at outrage. Glen Lavy, spokesman for the conservative Alliance Defense Fund, explained his group's opposition this way.

Mr. GLEN LAVY (Senior Counsel, Alliance Defense Fund): When children are raised without a mom or a dad, they are missing something. So we believe that it is in the best interests of children to have marriage - to have the government affirm marriage as a union of a man and woman.

PESCA: Conservative groups are now mobilizing to get a measure on the California ballot this November that would create a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in the state. But Kate Kendall, spokeswoman for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, says she's not worried.

Ms. KATE KENDALL (Executive Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights): I do not believe this is a state that will endorse that constitutional amendment. I believe it will be rejected and be rejected soundly.

MARTIN: You can go to npr.org throughout the day for updates on this story. Now let's some more of the day's news headlines with the BPP's Mark Garrison.

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