SANTA CRUZ — The U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday ruled that backers of Proposition 8 did not have legal standing to fight a federal judge’s ruling that found the proposition unconstitutional, leaving same-sex marriage to possibly go forward in California as soon as late July.
Santa Cruz County Clerk Gail Pellerin said Wednesday that she is waiting for word from California lawmakers about when same-sex marriages can resume here.
“I am thrilled with the outcome and look forward to issuing marriage licenses and conducting marriage ceremonies for our same-sex couples as soon as possible,” she stated in a press release.
Katherine Wolf, who deals with marriage licenses for the Santa Cruz County Clerk’s office, said that at least four couples have already lined up in anticipation of their license, with more calls coming in.
The justices backed off a broader ruling that could have legalized gay nuptials nationwide.
In a separate ruling, the justices struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which will allow married gay couples across the U.S. to receive the same federal benefits as their heterosexual counterparts.
Santa Cruz Diversity Center Executive Director Sharon Papo said she was “absolutely overjoyed” at the news.
“It’s a wonderful day, and tonight we’re going to celebrate,” she said. “This is a victory and a wonderful day for loving married families and their children.”
Papo pointed out that there are still 37 states that forbid same-sex marriage
“Tomorrow, we will continue our work,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, called the rulings, “a historic day for marriage equality.” and said he voted against the Defense of Marriage Act and, as a citizen, Prop 8.
“I am happy to say that thanks to the recent rulings by the Supreme Court, those two issues have finally been laid to rest,” he said in a prepared statement.
“With the end of Prop 8, all Californians once again are free to marry the person they love, regardless of sexual orientation,” Farr said. “And with the end of DOMA, that marriage will be respected by the federal government and their family will be afforded all appropriate rights.”
Maria Perez, president of Watsonville-based gay rights group SOMOS-LGBT said she was shocked at the “wonderful news.”
“I was hoping this would be the decision,” she said. “I was holding my breath, and now I can breathe a sigh of relief. Justice is prevailing.”
Perez continued, “Equality only happens if everyone makes it so in their hearts and beliefs,” Perez said. “It doesn’t happen just by law. We’re still fighting for equal and justice.”
California voters approved Proposition 8 in November 2008, with just over 52 percent voting for the measure. It became a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as only valid between a man and a woman.
Several same-sex couples immediately filed appeals, and in May 2009 the California Supreme Court validated Prop. 8.
That ruling immediately sparked a new lawsuit against then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger by a same-sex couple that was denied a marriage license.
In August 2010, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker sided with the couple, ruling that the law was unconstitutional. That decision was appealed by Protect Marriage, the organization that sponsored the proposition.
When Attorney General Jerry Brown and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger both announced they would not defend the law, Protect Marriage said it would.
A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in February 2012 agreed with Walker, and further refused to overturn Walker’s ruling, disputing claims by Prop. 8 supporters that the judge should have revealed he was gay. The panel also placed a stay on gay marriages until the matter was resolved.
Still not final
The issue has not yet been definitively decided. Same-sex couples in California will not be able to marry until the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifts the injunction, which has been in place throughout the appeals process.
Still, both Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris on Wednesday ordered county clerks in the state’s 58 counties to prepare to issue marriage licenses in advance of that decision.
“...Same-sex marriages can legally resume in California as soon as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifts its stay on the District Court Ruling,” Harris stated in a press release. “I ask that the Ninth Circuit lift this stay immediately, because gay and lesbian couples in California have waited long enough for their full civil rights.”
Meanwhile, Prop. 8 backers vowed to continue their fight.
“While it is unfortunate that the Court’s ruling does not directly resolve questions about the scope of the trial court’s order against Prop. 8, we will continue to defend Prop. 8 and seek its enforcement until such time as there is a binding statewide order that renders Prop 8. unenforceable,” said Andy Pugno, general counsel for Protect Marriage.
National Organization of Marriage President Brian Brown called the ruling a “miscarriage of justice.”
“…the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to consider the decision of a single federal court judge to overturn the perfectly legal action of over 7 million California voters who passed Proposition 8 defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman," Brown said.
One local couple’s story
For Santa Cruz Diversity Center Board of Directors President Adam Spickler, the high court’s decision means he can now marry his partner of three years, although he said they plan to wait until the decision is final.
“When we do get married it means we will be treated like everyone else, and that’s important,” he said.
The DOMA decision, he added, means that he will have the same benefits afforded to married heterosexual couples.
But on a more global scale, the decision is an important step forward for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Spickler said.
This ranges from students who are bullied for their sexual orientation to seniors faced with placement in a nursing home.
“These are issues we are still working on, and this brings us closer to the support we need to be accepted as equal,” he said.
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