While nine states have legalized gay marriage, with Maryland, Maine, Washington the most recent newcomers to the list, California, generally considered one of the most progressive of the progressive states, has been mired in the court system attempting to de-fang its anti-gay marriage amendment, Prop 8.
That effort has just been given a significant boost by the announcement today that the Supreme Court will take up the debate. As reported by CBS News:
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to take its first serious look at the issue of gay marriage, granting review of California’s ban on same-sex marriage and of a federal law that defines marriage as only the legal union of a man and a woman.
At the very least, the court will look at this question: When states choose to permit the marriages of same-sex couples, can the federal government refuse to recognize their validity? But by also taking up the California case, the court could get to the more fundamental question of whether the states must permit marriages by gay people in the first place.
The long and winding road leading up to this momentous decision has been one particularly fraught for the citizens of the great state of California. Long considered a mecca for equality and tolerance, particularly for those who saw California culture as exemplified by San Francisco’s exuberant Haight Ashbury district (well-depicted in Milk, the Oscar-winning film about murdered gay activitist and San Francisco city leader, Harvey Milk), and the easy-going, openly tolerant lifestyles of Los Angeles and its many beach communities, the unexpected passage of a constitutional amendment against marriage equality, Proposition 8, in 2008 was a stunning defeat for the both the brand and bravado of the state.
Many believed it passed simply because its wording was confusing, leading some who voted for it to believe they were voting for marriage equality. Others felt the get-out-the-vote efforts of the fundamentalist Christian communities of the state were far more organized and motivated, trumping the groundwork of the equality coalition, who may have gotten over-confident about what they perceived to be an impossible outcome. But once Prop 8 passed, it became shockingly real that an actual constitutional amendment against gay marriage had been put on the books and this was no small thing; the response from both sides was immediate and fierce.
While the “defense of marriage” crowd was dancing in the streets, the equality coalition got busy (if belatedly). The time-line from there, likely necessary to keep the steps along the way chronologically clear, is as follows [source: Wikipedia]:
After the elections, demonstrations and protests occurred across the state and nation. Same-sex couples and government entities filed numerous lawsuits with the California Supreme Court challenging the proposition’s validity and effect on previously administered same-sex marriages. In Strauss v. Horton, the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, but allowed existing same-sex marriages to stand (under the grandfather clause principle).
United States District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker overturned Proposition 8 on August 4, 2010 in the case Perry v. Schwarzenegger, ruling that it violated both the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the United States Constitution. Walker issued an injunction against enforcing Proposition 8 and a stay to determine suspension of his ruling pending appeal. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals continued the stay, keeping Walker’s ruling on hold pending appeal.
On February 7, 2012, in a 2–1 decision, a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel affirmed Walker’s decision declaring the Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. The panel also unanimously affirmed Judge Ware’s holding that Walker was not obligated to recuse himself from the case because he is gay. Still, the panel continued a stay on the ruling, barring any marriages from taking place pending further appeals. On June 5, 2012, a majority of the full Ninth Circuit denied a petition for rehearing en banc and stayed the ruling pending appeal. The proposition’s proponents filed a petition for certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, requesting that the Court review the case, on July 30, 2012.
On December 7, 2012, the Supreme Court granted the proponents’ petition for certiorari.
Though proponents of Prop 8, whose intent is to keep the definition of marriage legally limited to heterosexuals, are the ones who brought this case to the Supreme Court, the marriage equality contingent sees the decision by the Court to view the case, the first time the Court as agreed to do so, as the definitive opportunity to, at last, put the issue on the Federal table to determine its legality across the boards. Hope is high that, once again, California will take its place as a pioneer in matters of social justice and civil rights, and that the overturning of Prop 8 will be the milestone that finitely determines the legal rights of ALL American citizens to marry whomever they love, regardless of gender.
And when that happens, the dancing in the streets of California, from San Diego through Los Angeles, up to San Francisco and beyond, and all across the country, will likely be as colorful a celebration as the event deserves. Harvey Milk will surely be pleased, from wherever he’s viewing the party!