Californians are waiting in anticipation for a ruling from the California Supreme Court which may overturn the ban on same-sex marriage in the state.
On Thursday, attorneys for same-sex couples, civil rights organisations and the state Attorney General’s office appeared before the court to urge it to strike down Proposition 8, which took away the right of same-sex couples to marry.
At issue in the case is whether a voter referendum, such as Prop 8, can be used to take away a fundamental right only for one group of Californians based on a trait – in this case sexual orientation – that has no relevance to the group’s ability to participate in or contribute to society.
Because the case has serious implications for the constitutional rights of all Californians, it has generated unprecedented support from many national and state civil rights groups as well as California legislators, local governments, bar associations, business interests, labour unions, and religious groups.
While around a thousand people gathered outside the court watching proceedings on a giant screen, the seven justices challenged attorneys on both sides of the issues on almost every argument that was made.
“Proposition 8 jeopardises not just the right of same-sex couples to marry, but the rights of all Californians to be treated as free and equal citizens of this state,” said Shannon P. Minter, Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), who argued the case before the Court.
“Our Constitution is based on the principle that majorities must respect minority rights. But if a majority can change the Constitution to take away a fundamental right from one group, then it can take away fundamental rights from any group. Our government will have changed from one that respects minority rights to one in which the power of the majority is unlimited.”
NCLR, Lambda Legal, and the ACLU filed the legal challenge on November 5, after Prop 8 was approved by 52 percent of the voters.
An unprecedented 43 ‘friend-of-the-court’ briefs, representing hundreds of religious organisations, civil rights groups, and labor unions, and numerous California municipal governments, bar associations, and leading legal scholars, were filed in the case, urging the court to strike down the initiative.
The California Supreme Court, which has struck down several other initiatives similar to Prop 8 in the past, is expected to issue a decision within 90 days.