August 4, 2010 was a historic day for supporters of same-sex marriage, as Judge Vaughn R. Walker's ruling that California's Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. His decision declared that Prop 8 violates both the due process and equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution, the first time the ban on gay marriage has been ruled unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution. All previous court rulings have been limited to state constitutions.
In his conclusion, he said, "Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional."
Opponents of same-sex marriage will appeal this ruling to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. That decision is expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On August 12, 2010, Judge Walker denied the motion to stay, meaning that the ban on same sex marriages will not remain effect pending the decision of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Temporarily, the judgment shall be stayed until August 18, 2010. The stay though, can be appealed and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals could overrule Judge Walker's decision, which would deny the stay. If the 9th Circuit Court does not act to do so before August 18 at 5pm, same sex marriages can begin in California.
The California Supreme Court has announced that it will hear oral arguments on Thursday, March 5 (9am-12pm, Pacific Time), concerning three cases challenging the validity of Proposition 8, the ballot measure taking away same sex marriage rights which was narrowly approved by CA voters in November. The questions before the court are:
- Is Proposition 8 invalid because it constitutes a revision of, rather than an amendment to, the California Constitution?
- Does Proposition 8 violate the separation of powers doctrine under the California Constitution?
- If Proposition 8 is not unconstitutional, what is its effect, if any, on the marriages of same-sex couples performed before the adoption of Proposition 8?
The General Synod of the UCC has joined an Amicus Curiae brief (friend of the court brief) with both California-Nevada Conferences, the California Council of Churches and others in support of the petitioners claiming that Prop 8 should be ruled invalid. The Amicus is based on the writ of mandate petition filed by the same Amicus parties soon after the election, but which was deferred by the court.
The CA Supreme Court generally issues a decision, through a written opinion, within 90 days of oral argument (i.e., by June 3).
Case filings and resources:
UCC News Stories:
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Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing's "Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality"
Online clergy registry being developed
If you are clergy living in California and you will perform same sex marriages, please register with California Faith for Equality.
To register click here.
On May 15, 2008, the California Supreme Court overturned California's ban on same-sex marriage, ruling that domestic partnerships that provide many of the rights and benefits of matrimony are not enough. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Ronald George said, "In contrast to earlier times, our state now recognizes that an individual's capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual's sexual orientation."
The Northen California Nevada Conference affirmed the court decision at their 2008 Annual Meeting the weekend following the decision. The Southern California Nevada Conference (SCNC), at their 2008 Annual Meeting June 19-20, similarly affirmed the court's decision and opposed a Constitutional Amendment (Proposition 8) that will go before California voters in November limiting marriage to hetersexual couples. The SCNC also reaffirmed the resolution they adopted in 2004 supporting marriage equality. The 2004 resolution was endorsed in 2005 by the Northern California Nevada Conference and subsequently became a substantial part of the resolution, "In Support of Equal Marriage Rights for All" adopted the same year by General Synod 25 in Atlanta. The response of both Conferences points to the significant involvement of UCC congregations, pastors and lay leaders working for marriage equality in California. In addition, California Faith for Equality, a key participant in the Equality For All Coalition, has proven to be an important partner in this concern.
Marriage licenses began to be issued in California on June 16, the moment the ruling went into effect. Open and Affirming pastors and congregations are preparing to respond, not only to requests to perform ceremonies but to defend the ruling. UCC leaders in both California conferences are working to defeat a November ballot initiative sponsored by a group known as Protect Marriage. The initiative proposes an amendment to California's constitution limiting marriage to a man and a woman and would overide the court's ruling.