Thursday, March 5, 2009

California Supreme Court Hearing on Marriage

It was a colourful and peaceful gathering of hundreds of people outside of the Civic Center and California Supreme Court early this morning.

Both supporters and opponents of Prop 8, the election vote that overturned the Court's ruling allowing same-sex marriage in California, were there to campaign and watch a live broadcast of the hearing set up on a large screen outside the Civic Center.

Across the plaza, seven Supreme Court justices were preparing to listen to arguments on both sides on three issues:

Is Prop 8 invalid because it constitutes a 'revision of' rather than an 'amendment to' the state Constitution? Does it violate the 'separation of powers' doctrine? And the thorny question, if Prop 8 is valid, what effect if any will it have on the 18,000 couples who entered into same-sex marriage between June, when the Supreme Court ruling came into effect, and November when the electoral vote put a stop to such marriages.

But while the crowd, largely those in favour of same-sex marriage, waited for the Court hearing to begin at 9 am, a rally had been organized with speakers, two of them gay and lesbian church ministers.

The first minister said he had married his partner in Canada and had been in activism for 40 years.

He urged the crowd to live in hope that one day they would win the battle for same-sex marriage.

'You can't live one second without hope,' he said. 'We've already won the battle.'

In a jibe at the Mormon church who helped finance the campaign to restore a definition of traditional marriage to the state Constitution, he said, 'I want to thank God for the Mormon church this morning,' ie for their example of polygamy. All we're requesting is one!'

'I'm not here to destroy anybody's marriage,' he said. 'I'm here to have my own.'

Next to him, a Pentecostal minister who said she had had a lesbian partner for 25 years, spoke of the history of the church finally solemnizing slave marriages, a parallel that she saw to the current debate.

'Banning same-sex marriage is a form of gay bashing and would do nothing to protect traditional marriage,' she said.

Carrying posters, however, as they walked past the Civic Center towards the Supreme Court that conveyed the message, 'The people have voted twice!' were Kelly, Karen and Eva. They were making the point that Californians have

'We're here to support and stand up for the will of the majority for voters in the state of California who have voted twice on this issue in 2000 and 2008 and we object to judicial activism and hope that the justices are not swayed by political opinion,' said Karen.

Back at the podium another speaker from the black community spoke against the black vote on Prop 8 - it has been measured at 59 per cent, above the average vote of other groupings - claiming that blacks had been wrongly influenced.

'Many ministers initially told their congregations homosexuality is a sin,' she said.

She said that if Prop 8 was allowed to stand, it would mean that any rights could be taken away from any community.

The Executive Director of Equality California, Geoff Kors, speaking of the enactment of Prop 8 said, 'What if a simple majority can decide my 80-year-old parents don't have the right to medical care?'

Standing listening were a large group of Prop 8 supporters who had travelled in from Sacramento. They stood quietly with giant banners that simply read 'Tradtional Marriage' with a large red tick in a ballot square painted alongside.

However, they did not wish to make public comment.

Outside the Supreme Court I met Kelly, Karen and Eva again and asked them about the issue of 'rights'.

'What is defined as a fundamental right?,' said Karen who has a legal background. 'There are protected classes. Gender is one of them and has a higher level of scrutiny. The other class is race,' she said.

There were laws against misogyny and sexual discrimination, but that it was not a 'right' to marry.

The issue of blacks marrying whites, a racial precedent that supporters of same-sex marriage were using in argument, was a different issue, she said.

'The California Supreme Court has found a way of saying that gay marriage is a fundamental right, thus giving it the highest level of scrutiny.

'We felt we needed to protect the traditional definition of marriage, we shouldn't have to,' she said.

At that point, Daniel, a young gay man who had been listening, joined in.

'This is the first instance discrimination has been written into the Constitution,' he said.

As they debated, Karen reiterated, 'It's about protecting the traditional definition of marriage.'

'So where can you stop?' said Daniel, asking about how restrictive laws could be made on gay couples.

'They can marry the same way we can. They have the same rights,' said Eva.

Leaving the discussion I turned to go back to the screen as the Court hearing was starting and passed a group from the Assembly of the Living God, San Francisco, engaging in prayer.

The Supreme Court hearing report to follow

pics show: Kelly, Karen, Eva; gay and lesbian ministers; supporters of traditional marriage; supporters of same-sex marriage

for an album of pics click here:

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