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California Supreme Court overturns gay marriages
"Back to being not quite equal"

By Roger Dyer and Elizabeth Schulte | August 20, 2004 | Page 2

IN A 5-2 decision on August 12, the California Supreme Court struck down San Francisco's same-sex marriages, declaring that some 4,000 weddings between gays and lesbians performed earlier this year are null and void. The decision comes six months after San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that the city would begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

In an enthusiastic scene recalling the civil rights movement of the 1960s, thousands flooded the San Francisco's City Hall to get their licenses. But in its decision this month, the court ruled that Newsom had overstepped his bounds in defying state law, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

By ruling on such narrow grounds, the court ducked the larger issue of determining whether such a fundamentally discriminatory law is unconstitutional to begin with. That will be decided by the high court at a later date, after more lawsuits make their way through lower courts.

For now, gay and lesbian couples are left in limbo, wondering what will happen to benefits such as parental rights, family insurance discounts and medical coverage. "I know they're not making a judgment on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, but they are saying there are no same-sex marriages," said 24-year-old Karen Carrington, who married her partner six months ago. To me, that meant, okay, I'm back to being half a person, not quite a citizen, not quite an American."

The response to the ruling from antigay bigots was typical. "The justices have restored the rule of law in California," declared Jordan Lorence, who argued the case on behalf of the right-wing Christian Alliance Defense Fund.

But this ruling did not come down without resistance. On the day the court announced its decision, some 400 people, gay and straight, came together at a rally in the city's Castro district to voice their opposition.

When San Francisco began issuing marriage licenses in February, the city was criticized by some liberals as doing too much, too soon. Openly gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) actually opposed gay marriages in San Francisco, claiming that the time "wasn't right."

"When you're in a real struggle, San Francisco making a symbolic point becomes a diversion," Frank chastised. For Frank and other Democratic Party politicians, the "real struggle" is winning the November presidential election.

For them, activism like the protests inspired by San Francisco, where activists demanded licenses in city after city, gets in the way of making sure the Democrat, John Kerry, gets elected. This argument plays on the fears of many people about what will happen if George W. Bush--who supports a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage--gets four more years in the White House.

But the liberals are willing to ignore Kerry's own rotten position on gay marriage. Kerry supports civil unions rather than marriage--a back-of-the-bus compromise that gives far fewer rights and protections.

And Kerry and his running mate John Edwards endorsed Missouri's decision to add an amendment to its state constitution limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. The amendment, which was approved by 70 percent of Missouri voters in early August, enshrines antigay discrimination in the state constitution.

Kerry told the Kansas City Star that the ballot measure was the same as one in the works in his home state of Massachusetts, and that he supported it. "We're both opposed to gay marriage and believe that states should be allowed to decide this question," Edwards told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

More fights lay ahead for gay rights supporters, with some 12 more states considering their own marriage bans. There's no way that we can rely on Kerry to fight for our civil rights.

As the civil rights movement of the 1960s showed, change comes not through the ballot box, but through struggle. And the recent California court ruling shows just tenuous a strategy of "letting the courts work" can be.

That's why we have to build organizations and form networks to take up the fight for equal rights for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered--for gay marriage and beyond. We can't wait. Equal marriage now!

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