Shannon Minter, standing, speaks to the California Supreme Court in San Francisco, Thursday, March 5, 2009 on the constitutionality of the state's voter-approved Proposition 8 that bans gay unions. The court will decide whether to uphold the same-sex marriage ban and whether same-sex couple marriages will remain valid. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, pool)
California Supreme Court Justices heard arguments today from both sides on the validity of Proposition 8.
Kenneth Starr was amazing today, representing the Yes on 8 campaign in front of the Supreme Court! The definition of marriage as only between 1 man and 1 woman may remain in tack! Supreme Court Justices may actually remember they don’t have authority to dictate voter’s rights. Here’s the scoop from today’s Prop 8 Supreme Court oral arguments. Things are looking good so far!!!
“What I am picking up from the oral arguments is that this court should willy-nilly disregard the will of the people,” said Kennard, who just 10 months ago voted that prohibiting same-sex marriages violated the civil rights of gays. “The people established the constitution; as judges, our power is very limited.”
According to the SF Associated Press, thousands of demonstrators showed up to chant and wave signs outside of the CA Supreme Court building today, as the Justices geared up to hear and question oral arguments from parties on both sides of the gay marriage ban issue.
Attorney’s for gay couples and supporters of SSM argued that gay civil rights are being violated and tried to,
persuade the California Supreme Court that the public’s right to change the constitution doesn’t extend to depriving an unpopular minority of the right to wed.
But the court’s seven justices indicated a wariness to override what Associate Justice Joyce Kennard called the people’s “very, very broad, well-wrought” authority to amend the state’s governing framework at the ballot box.
Couples who married during the short 4 1/2 month period in which the ban on SSM was lifted, were disheartened by the tone of the hearing and not very hopeful that the justices would strike down the ban that voters put in place with a 52% vote in favor of Proposition 8 last November.
Bad news for gay couples, but amazing news for those of us who voted Yes on Prop 8 and want to see the traditional definition of marriage preserved, as was the entire reason for the ballot initiative in the first place.
Gay rights advocates argued the proposition is such a sweeping change to the constitution’s equal protection clause that it was a constitutional revision, not just an amendment. A revision requires legislative approval before it lands on the ballot.
Chief Justice Ronald George, who also ruled last year to strike down a pair of laws that limited marriage to a man and a woman, echoed Kennard’s qualms about denying voters their voice.
The Supreme Court acknowledged today that the voters were well withing their rights to vote to amend their state constitution and place a ban on gay marriage. It has happened hundreds of times before, 500 times to be exact, compared with just 27 amendments to the United States Constitution. Chief Justice Ronald George noted that it is up to the Legislature and the voters to make the amendment process more difficult, not the job of the court.
“It seems what you are saying is, it is just too easy to amend the California Constitution,” George told Raymond Marshall, an attorney representing the NAACP and other civil rights groups trying to overturn the ban. “Maybe the solution has to be a political one.”
Too easy or not, the amendment, revision, or whatever, is already done, and if some think it’s too easy to amended our state constitution, then that is an issue to be addressed outside of the court and should not be related to the Constitutionality of Prop 8.
Minutes into Thursday’s proceedings, the justices peppered a lawyer representing unwed same sex couples with tough questions over how the 14 words of Proposition 8 represent a denial of fundamental rights when same-sex couples still have the legal benefits of marriage through domestic partnerships.
“Is it your argument in this proceeding that the passage of Proposition 8 also took away in addition to the label of marriage, the core of substantive rights of marriage this court outlined in its decision last year?” asked Kennard.
Supporters of the gay marriage ban, represented by former Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, said it would be a reversal of the Supreme Court’s own precedents for the court to overturn the results of a fair election.
“Under our theory the people are sovereign and they can do very unwise things that tug at the equality principle,” Starr said.
He also argued that California voters have an “inalienable right” to amend the constitution and that taking away rights through the initiative process is not a revision that alters the structure of government.
The question about what will happen to the 18,000 same-sex marriages that were preformed before the passage of Prop 8 still stands. Many of the justices appeared skeptical that Prop 8 could be applied retroactively. However, from my standpoint, just because the marriages were legal when they were performed, if the court upholds Prop 8, and the Constitution of California defines marriage as only marriages between one man and one woman are valid and recognized in CA, then it looks like even if SS marriages may remain legal, they won’t be recognized by the state. That is what the amendment says.
The justices have 90 days to issue a ruling.
The crowd outside the court grew steadily throughout the hearing, with many watching the proceedings on a giant television screen erected across the street in front of City Hall. Demonstrators were evenly split over the gay marriage issue and took turns drowning out each others chants after the hearing.
Visit my friend Beetle Blogger for her personal account of the hearing today. She also posted the video of the hearing if you want to watch that. Check out her post, she’s got the inside scoop.
Pearl Diver also has a great write-up of today’s events!