SAN FRANCISCO California Supreme Court May 15 issued a much-anticipated and landmark decision by ordering the state to legalize "gay marriage," making it the second in the nation to do so and also setting up a dramatic cultural and political battle in November, when a constitutional marriage amendment likely will appear on the ballot.
The 4-3 ruling won't fully take effect for 30 days, and pro-family groups were promising to ask the court to stay its decision until citizens vote in November. That marriage amendment, sponsored by the group ProtectMarriage.com, would reverse the court's ruling.
But despite the fact the ruling wasn't yet in effect, same-sex couples in San Francisco and throughout the state celebrated outside courthouses, pledging to get "married" in one month.
The decision was handed down more than four years after Massachusetts' highest court also struck down that state's marriage laws. But the California ruling coming in the nation's most populous state easily is the biggest win yet for homosexual activists.
The court struck down Proposition 22, a law passed in 2000 to prohibit "gay marriage" and protect the natural definition of marriage. Voters approved it by a margin of 61-39 percent.
"[W]e determine that the language of [current California law] limiting the designation of marriage to a union 'between a man and a woman' is unconstitutional and must be stricken from the statute, and that the remaining statutory language must be understood as making the designation of marriage available both to opposite-sex and same-sex couples," Chief Justice Ronald George wrote in a 121-page opinion for the court.
The California decision differed from the Massachusetts one in that Massachusetts did not have a law on the books prohibiting "gay marriage," as did California. The ruling also underscored the argument that supporters of marriage amendments on the state level have long made: Laws banning "gay marriage" are not sufficient.
"This shows the importance of putting it in the constitution," Glen Lavy, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, which opposes "gay marriage," told Baptist Press.
California conservatives particularly were disturbed that the court overturned a law that an overwhelming majority of citizens had approved - a point made by the three dissenting justices.
"It should be a wake-up call for the majority of the people in California," Chris Clark, pastor of East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church in San Diego and a ProtectMarriage.com volunteer, told BP. "Their vote has just been rendered worthless because of what happened today, and the Supreme Court has showed a disregard for the democratic system.... If there was anybody that thought we were just crying wolf four or five months ago when we were saying we have to get this [amendment] on the ballot ... maybe today they'll be able to see that this [legalized 'gay marriage'] is really going to happen unless we do something."
California already has a domestic partnerships law that grants same-sex couples the legal benefits of marriage. The court, though, ruled that the law was insufficient. George wrote that putting homosexual couples into a different category "pose[s] a serious risk of denying the official family relationship of same-sex couples the equal dignity and respect that is a core element of the constitutional right to marry."
Associate Justice Marvin R. Baxter wrote a scathing dissent, asserting that the court was foreclosing the "ordinary democratic process" and "overstep[ping] its authority." Associate Justice Ming W. Chin joined Baxter's dissent.
"[A] bare majority of this court, not satisfied with the pace of democratic change, now abruptly forestalls that process and substitutes, by judicial fiat, its own social policy views for those expressed by the People themselves," Baxter wrote. "Undeterred by the strong weight of state and federal law and authority, the majority invents a new constitutional right, immune from the ordinary process of legislative consideration. The majority finds that our Constitution suddenly demands no less than a permanent redefinition of marriage, regardless of the popular will."
Associate Justice Carol A. Corrigan who replaced conservative Justice Janice Rogers Brown on the court - said in a separate dissent that although she personally supports "gay marriage," she believed the court overreached.
"Four votes on this court should not disturb the balance reached by the democratic process, a balance that is still being tested in the political arena," she wrote. "Certainly initiative measures are not immune from constitutional review. However, we should hesitate to use our authority to take one side in an ongoing political debate."
Barrett Duke, vice president for governmental affairs for the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, also criticized the majority opinion. He said he was "saddened for the people of California" but "especially for the children of that state."
"The California Supreme Court ruling not only overruled the very clear will of the people, it also proposes to overrule God's design," Duke said. "These judges may think they know more about marriage than the rest of us, but I am confident they don't know more about marriage than God. Marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Children need that environment to give them their best chance to fulfill their great potential. That's not only my opinion and the opinion of most of the people in this country, it's God's opinion, and His opinion overrules the opinion of any judges. May God help the citizens of California to win this battle for the family."
In April officials with ProtectMarriage.com turned in more than 1.1 million signatures to county officials, far more than the 690,000 needed. The signatures have yet to verified as valid and pro-family groups do not know yet if it qualified, although they are confident it did.
Rob Zinn, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, Calif., helped gather signatures and said it will take an "overwhelming effort" to guarantee the amendment's passage.
"The other side I don't know where they get all their resources and funds but they seem to have them," Zinn said. "The media will give them the spin they want.... My gut instinct is that the vast majority of California people believe in traditional marriage, so it will come down to the spin that they put on this. We can do everything we can do and then we'll just have to trust God and see what the people do."
The proposed amendment reads: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."
The California ruling may not be the last pro-"gay marriage" ruling of the year. The Connecticut Supreme Court could hand down its decision on the issue any day.