California Ruling Reignites Same-Sex Marriage Debate

by Michael O. Allen on May 16, 2008

By NATHAN KOPPEL and T.W. FARNAM , May 16, 2008; Page A1

The California Supreme Court opened the door to same-sex marriages in the nation’s largest state, reigniting a hot-button social issue amid a presidential election campaign so far dominated by economic issues and the war in Iraq.

The ruling makes California the second state, after Massachusetts, to give gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. But lawyers said the state’s national influence and size — representing 12% of the country’s population and one-fifth of the electoral vote need to win the White House — make the decision the most important legal victory to date for proponents of same-sex marriage. The decision, coming six months before the presidential election, also could galvanize voters on a topic that in this campaign cycle has largely been on the sidelines.

“The California Supreme Court is a famous and respected court, and [same-sex couples] have lost more legal challenges than they have won, so this is big news,” said attorney Jeffrey Trachtman, who lost a 2006 case that attempted to overturn New York’s ban on same-sex marriages.

A handful of states, including California, Vermont and New Jersey, allow same-sex couples to enter civil unions or domestic partnerships that afford many of the rights of marriage. But the California court, which was considering whether state law prohibiting gay marriage violates California’s constitution, voted 4-3 that such protections didn’t go far enough.

“[R]etaining the designation of marriage exclusively for opposite-sex couples and providing only a separate and distinct designation for same-sex couples may well have the effect of perpetuating a more general premise — now emphatically rejected by this state — that gay individuals and same-sex couples are in some respects ‘second-class citizens,'” wrote the court.

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