High court backs marriage equality

CITY HALL — Advocates of marriage equality scored two historic victories Wednesday morning, clearing the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California.

The U.S. Supreme Court declared a federal law reserving the institution for people of the opposite sex unconstitutional, and also ordered the U.S. Ninth District Court to lift a stay on that court’s previous decision, which struck down a California state law reserving the term “marriage” for couples of the opposite sex.

In a 5-4 decision, the court declared the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional, clearing the way for married couples of the same sex to receive the same benefits as other married people.

Signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, DOMA reserved legal marriage for couples of the opposite sex.

In today’s decision, the US Supreme Court said DOMA violated the equal protection clause of the US Constitution because it denied a right for a particular group of people.

This means that in states where they can be performed legally, marriages involving couples of the same sex are now recognized by the federal government and the individuals involved will be eligible for the same benefits as opposite-sex couples.

In the second decision, the court ruled that the authors and proponents of Proposition 8 — the California law passed by voters which reserved the word “marriage” for couples of the opposite sex — “did not have standing” to appeal a decision by the US Ninth Circuit court, which had ruled against the proposition.

The decision ordered the circuit court to lift a stay on the proposition’s rejection, effectively invalidating it.

The circuit court had overturned a previous decision in favor of the proposition by the California Supreme Court, and in today’s decision the U.S. Supreme Court noted that only the governor or attorney general of the state — Jerry Brown or Kamala Harris — had the legal standing to appeal the circuit court’s decision.

This leaves open the possibility of Prop. 8 proponents to file another lawsuit in the state courts to enforce it at the state level, but legal experts say it effectively kills any more appeals on this issue at the federal level. Both Brown and Harris have publicly come out against the proposition, so they are unlikely to appeal.

“We feel super-excited,” said Phil Kotzan as he stood outside San Francisco City Hall holding a banner with his partner, Andrew Somera.

Kotzan told SFBay:

“Equality will always prevail. … Nothing can repress rights. … We got married non-legally back in September of 2012. So today we can finally actually do it with a legal recognition.”

Somera added:

“It’s great that California can finally recognize same-sex marriage. …. I agree it’s only the first step. We have a long way to go but we’re going to continue the fight for sure.”

Kotzan said the couple will be now making their marriage legal:

“We have a lot of planning ahead of us now.”

Standing with the full San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom in the packed City Hall rotunda, Mayor Edwin Lee addressed a wildly cheering crowd immediately after the court’s decisions were announced:

“It feels good to have love triumph over ignorance. … In this hall, where so many marriages have taken place and so many people have loved each other and expressed that here for the very first time, it feels good!”

Nancy Rubin said a lot has changed for gays and lesbians since California’s Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8 in 2010, less than a hundred yards from where she was standing on the steps of City Hall:

“Today it’s pretty wonderful that after such struggle we’ve gotten to such a victory. … I think that we’re much wiser and we were very sad in those days but we put resolve together and weren’t scared down or beaten down by the critics, and in fact have changed the tide in the country.”

Karen Jacobson was visiting from Atlanta, Georgia. She told SFBay her daughter is a lesbian:

“As a very inclusive family, today means so much to me that our federal government recognized my daughter’s equality.”

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who represents the Castro District, also spoke to those celebrating in City Hall:

“For those of you who come in this building a lot, one of the things that you notice immediately is there are a lot of marriages constantly happening in this rotunda … but it’s a constant reminder that there are no gay people that are getting married as well. Because of today … those marriages are going to get just a little bit more diverse.”

Directly in front of City Hall, Frank Pietronigro held an original piece of art he created that he calls “Wedding Liberty,” which showed two Statues of Liberty holding hands:

“This is an incredible day for all freedom and all Americans. We should all be celebrating. … It’s not just freedom for one particular group; it’s a celebration for freedom for all Americans. That’s why I decided to take this incredible image of the Statue of Liberty and infer that she’s getting married with another woman.”

California’s Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom — who as mayor raised the ire of conservatives nationally when he said same-sex marriage was coming whether they liked it or not — said today’s ruling still does not settle the issue nationwide, because it does not affect the policies of individual states:

“The broader issue of marriage equality has hardly been met. … And the larger issues of gay rights have hardly been met. We now have a dozen states firmly on the side of equality. We have three dozen that are not.”