Originally published May 26, 2009 at 10:06 a.m., updated May 26, 2009 at 10:37 p.m.
SAN DIEGO The California Supreme Court today upheld the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the voter-approved measure that banned same- sex marriage in the state, but the court also ruled that the unions of roughly 18,000 same-sex couples who were wed last year will remain valid.
Despite the conclusions in the 186-page ruling, the battle over same-sex marriage in California is likely to continue, with supporters insisting they will try to get
The state's highest court heard oral arguments in March from attorneys supporting the measure and from those representing plaintiffs who claim the measure is unconstitutional and improperly amended the state constitution.
Voters approved Proposition 8 in November. The ban sparked outrage from gay rights advocates and prompted mass protests across the state.
In the days after the passage of Proposition 8, three lawsuits were filed directly with the state Supreme Court challenging the validity of the measure.
The court, however, determined in the 6-1 ruling that the proposition legally adjusted the state's constitution.
"Having been approved by a majority of the voters at the November 4, 2008, election, the initiative measure lawfully amends the California Constitution to include the new provision ...," according to the court's decision.
"In a sense, petitioners' and the Attorney General's complain is that it is just too easy to amend the California Constitution through the initiative process," the justices concluded. "But it is not a proper function of this court to curtail that process; we are constitutionally bound to uphold it. If the process for amending the constitution is to be restricted -- perhaps in the manner it was explicitly limited in an earlier version of our state constitution ... or as limited in the present-day constitutions of some of our sister states ... this is an effort that the people themselves may undertake through the process of amending their constitution in order to impose further limitations upon their own power of initiative."
On the question of whether the marriages of same-sex couples who wed last year should be allowed to stand, the court ruled that Proposition 8 cannot be used to invalidate them.
"Applying well-established legal principles pertinent to the question whether a constitutional provision should be interpreted to apply prospectively or retroactively, we conclude that the new section cannot properly be interpreted to apply retroactively," according to the ruling. "Accordingly, the marriages of same-sex couples performed prior to the effective date of Proposition 8 remain valid and must continue to be recognized in this state."
In response to today's ruling, a Marriage Equality rally will be held at 5 p.m. at Sixth Avenue and Laurel Street in Balboa Park. City Councilman Todd Gloria and San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders are expected to attend.
Gloria, who is openly gay, said during today's council meeting that the fight for same-sex marriage will continue.
"To make it clear, we expect this to be a temporary setback," Gloria said. "I am disappointed that the state of California is not stepping up like" other states that have supported same-sex marriage.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urged people planning to take part in rallies to ensure that the marches remain lawful.
"While I believe that one day either the people or courts will recognize gay marriage, as governor of California I will uphold the decision of the California Supreme Court," he said. "Regarding the 18,000 marriages that took place prior to Proposition 8's passage, the court made the right decision in keeping them intact. I also want to encourage all those responding to today's court decision to do so peacefully and lawfully."
Eight years ago, California voters approved Proposition 22, which specified in state law that only marriages between a man and a woman are valid in California. But in May 2008, the state Supreme Court ruled the law was unconstitutional because it discriminated against gays, and an estimated 18,000 same-sex couples got married in the ensuing months.
Opponents of same-sex marriage quickly got Proposition 8 on the November ballot, and it was approved by a margin of 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent.
State Attorney General Jerry Brown petitioned the state Supreme Court to overturn Proposition 8. Brown noted that in the ruling overturning Proposition 22, the state Supreme Court found that the constitution guarantees that the right to marry cannot be denied to same-sex couples.
In their court papers, proponents of the measure attacked the view of opponents that Proposition 8 represents a radical change of the constitution that should have been required a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
Andrew Pugno, attorney for ProtectMarriage.com, the group that supported Proposition 8, hailed the court's ruling.
"This is the culmination of years of hard work to preserve marriage in California," Pugno said. "Hundreds of thousands of volunteers worked diligently to uphold the institution of marriage. Twice, voters have decided the marriage in California should be only between a man and a woman. We are extremely pleased that the Supreme Court has acknowledged the right of voters to define marriage in the California Constitution. The voters have decided this issue and their views should be respected."
Stephen Whitburn, a former San Diego City Council candidate and political coordinator for Marriage Equality USA, said today's ruling was not unexpected, but will be challenged again.
"There have been many people who expected that the court would do what it did today," Whitburn said. "We're very sad that the court has allowed a vote of the majority to take away the fundamental right to marry for a minority. It opens the door to voter discrimination against any majority and that is unjust. But make no mistake, we will overcome this historic injustice with our own historic initiative. We learned today that it will be up to us to reach the hearts and minds of our fellow Californians so the majority is with us."