Three judges on the appeals court made it possible for local governments to issue marriage certificates for gay and lesbian couples with a few words: “The stay in the above matter is dissolved effective immediately.”
Very soon after, cheers erupted and camera flashes flickered as Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier obtained a marriage license and wed at San Francisco’s city hall. The two were one of the couples who sued to stop a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage from taking effect.
“This is a profound day for our country, and it’s just the right thing,” said California Attorney General Kamala Harris, shortly before presiding over Perry’s and Stier’s wedding ceremony. “Justice is finally being served,”
California’s Supreme Court struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in May 2008, ruling that the state’s constitution gives “this basic civil right to (marry to) all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples.”
But months later, 52% of voters backed Proposition 8 to once again restrict marriages so that they can only be between a man and a woman.
The measure put gay and lesbian marriages on hold in the state, though lawsuits followed.
State officials declined to stand behind Proposition 8 — and, thus, its prohibition on gay marriage — though private parties did step in and offer to do so.
A federal appeals court later ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, though it still issued a stay on same-sex marriages until the U.S. Supreme Court could weigh in.
That happened in a 5-4 decision Wednesday, when the high court dismissed an appeal of that federal court ruling on jurisdictional grounds. That meant Friday’s news — the resumption of same-sex marriages in the Golden State — was expected, even though no one knew when it would happen.
The Supreme Court ruled that the private parties backing Proposition 8 did not have “standing” to defend the ballot measure. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, joined by fellow conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and more liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.
“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend a state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” wrote Roberts.
This decision was cheered by gay marriage supporters in California, though it skirted the larger issue of whether same-sex marriage is a constitutional “equal protection” right that should apply to all states.
So, too, did another landmark ruling that same day on United States v. Windsor: It struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act and found that the federal government must recognize legal same-sex marriages, though it did not compel them to be legalized in the 37 states where they currently are not.
Still, both decisions were resoundingly cheered by gay rights supporters.
Many who believe marriage should only be between a man and a woman, however, were disappointed. And that held to form on Friday as well, after the 9th Circuit’s ruling allowing same-sex marriages in California.
“This outrageous act tops off a chronic pattern of lawlessness, throughout this case, by judges and politicians hell-bent on thwarting the vote of the people to redefine marriage by any means, even outright corruption,” the Proposition Legal Defense Fund said in a statement. “…If our opponents rejoice in achieving their goal in a dishonorable fashion, they should be ashamed.”