Tuesday, May 26, 2009

California Supreme Court ruling on Proposition 8 and gay marriage

As you probably know by now, the California Supreme Court handed up its ruling this morning on Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to define marriage as between opposite-sex couples. The court ruled that the amendment was valid, but also ruled that the 18,000 same-sex marriages that were performed up until last November remain legally valid. You can read the full decision in Strauss v. Holton by clicking HERE.

I have read the decision, and I am struck by a number of items. In one sense, the court ruled narrowly, saying that its responsibility was confined to deciding whether the voters had amended the state constitution validly: "It bears emphasis in this regard," the court wrote, "that our role is limited to interpreting and applying the principles and rules embodied in the California Constitution, setting aside our own personal beliefs and values."

The court noted that, unlike the U.S. Constitution, amending the California Constitution is relatively easy. There have been only 27 amendments to the federal constitution since 1789 while there have been more than 500 amendments to the state's constitution in barely a century.

Here is where today's ruling gets interesting; the California Supreme Court rested its decision on the premise that Proposition 8 did not, in fact, limit the rights of same-sex couples other than to remove the designation of "marriage" from such unions. The court said that to have limited rights would have been a constitutional "revision," and that the voters cannot do.

The Supreme Court maintained that the legal rights of couples, same-sex or opposite-sex, remain unchanged regardless of whether it is called "marriage." Proposition 8, the court said, left "undisturbed all of the other extremely significant substantive aspects of a same-sex couple’s state constitutional right to establish an officially recognized and protected family relationship and the guarantee of equal protection of the laws."

Yet is that true? Last year, the same state Supreme Court ruled that marriage was so inherently important that it could not be denied couples based merely on their gender or gender preference.

Therein is the crux of the moral, legal and political argument that will continue to take place. Are rights (not privileges) being denied, as the court ruled they were only a year ago? The stories of real human beings must be told -- again. Those with open hearts, I pray, will listen. No church, no member of the clergy, is being forced to perform any kind of marriage ceremony he or she does not agree with. I also pray that those of us who support equal access to marriage will do so in a way that is without rancor, that looks for the best in people, and not their worst, and seeks always to bring healing and reconciliation among all people.

As religious people, as followers of Jesus Christ, I pray that compassion will be our guide. And compassion should bring us to a place of support for those who wish to live in loving, committed relationships called marriage, with the full protection of the law. What would Jesus do?

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