It’s a ruling that has the eyes of the world watching the city of San Francisco. This historic event stems from a nearly two-year-old ballot measure that forced moral, religious and constitutional issues into a staggering free-for-all. On Wednesday, August 4th, a major battle was won in a two-year-long war viciously fought over the rights of same-sex couples to legally marry. A strategic battle was won, but the war will continue to rage on. While Proposition 8 was the spark that ignited this explosive series of events, the war had started prior to the proposition winning in the 2008 election. Proposition 8, which banned legal marriage between same-sex partners, was the culmination of years of fighting between right-winged church-based groups and equal rights supporters.
The legal history of this constitutional war goes back six years. In 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom issued marriage licenses regardless of a couple’s gender. A flurry of lawsuits quickly followed and worked their way through the judicial system, eventually reaching the Supreme Court of California. The courtroom battles raged on until 2008. On May 15th, 2008, California’s Supreme Court overturned the state ban on same-sex marriage in the ruling In re Marriage Cases. The decision was four-to-three and took effect on June 16th of that year. Religious activists started their attack against the court decision immediately.
In a state known for racial and sexual tolerance, petitions circulating around the state in a favor of banning same-sex marriages went without abundant notice. As it became blaringly apparent that the measure would land a spot on the November election, equal rights groups started fighting back. However it was too late. The ballet initiative, Proposition 8, whose title was officially “Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry Act,” passed with a 52% majority.
The ballot was funded in large part by out-of-state religious groups such as the Mormon Church. However, legal representatives who battled in court on behalf of Proposition 8 supporters were careful not to mention the religious aspects of this issue. However, religious groups were quick to point out the biblical issue at hand: Same-sex marriages were not approved under the laws set forth in the scriptures. In a case driven by religious views of morality and constitutional discrimination, controversy was sure to follow. After the measure passed, the courts became clogged with legal actions against the new law.
On November 5th, 2008, three lawsuits were filed against the validity of the controversial proposition. The basis of the lawsuit was a constitutional issue. Those fighting the proposition in court held that the new law was a thinly disguised revision in the Constitution and not a simple amendment. Under this stipulation, a two-thirds approval would have to be met by the California State Legislature to enact such a measure. While the California Supreme Court finally heard the challenges to Proposition 8 on May 26th 2009, they still upheld the proposition. However, they did not overturn previous same-sex marriages that occurred between their June 2008 ruling and the day after the November election. This added fuel to the legal wildfire.
On May 22nd, 2009, a lawsuit was filed in a federal court to overturn Proposition 8. Again, the argument was driven by a change in constitutional rights which meant a direct change to California’s Constitution rather than an amendment. The issue finally made it to trial in federal court on January 11th of this year. Final arguments were made on June 17th. The eyes of the world were now on Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker as he examined the underlying issues in painstaking detail.
The announcement yesterday of Proposition 8 being overturned came as a shock to those who supported the proposition. The problem with the proposition is multifaceted. Core to the issue is the question of who decides who has the legal right to marry and why some individuals qualify for legal marriage and some don’t. The key to this is morality and what qualifies as morally correct. In statements made by supporters of Proposition 8, God always managed to come into the argument. Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, had this to say of Judge Walker’s decision: “Marriage goes back to the Garden of Eden, where God defined His institution of marriage as being between one man and one woman.” Note, the actual word marriage was coined much later in the linguistic timeline of human languages.
Throughout the battle over same-sex marriage, religious morals have formed the backbone of the argument for banning this type of marriage. Then there’s the Constitution. The Constitution clearly was designed to protect the rights and freedoms of those who live under its umbrella. This means religious zealots and gay activists alike. Where the proposition failed, in the long run, was in its tinkering with personal rights and freedoms. There’s nothing wrong with an amendment to antiquated laws; however, directly changing the Constitution is something altogether different.
The case is far from over, as additional chapters will be written over the next few years. With proponents of Proposition 8 gearing up for an appeal, the next 18 months promise to be filled with legal actions and counter-actions. The question becomes simple. If a citizen who pays taxes, lives a law-abiding life and is a productive member of society is protected completely by our Constitution, haven’t they earned the right to marry whomever they wish? It will be interesting to see what history books say about this issue fifty years from now.