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Tuesday, September 6, 2011 - Today, the California Supreme Court is hearing arguments on an important question of California law that presented itself in the ongoing federal challenge to Prop 8, same-sex marriage issue. Leaders of Equality Action NOW, a local grassroots, civil rights organization have been on the forefront of educating the public and providing the community with a voice since the general election November of 2008 when Proposition 8 passed and was made into law.
For many members of the organization it is a personal issue and today will mark a pivotal moment in their fight for marriage equality.
The Court in San Francisco will decide whether California law allows the sponsors of Prop 8 to force an appeal in Perry v. Brown – even though the California Attorney General actually agrees that Prop 8 is unconstitutional.
For thousands of same-sex couples, their supportive friends and family members, and straight allies, this battle for equality and civil rights has been long and trying.
A year ago, Dr. Nicola Simmersbach, a “pro-marriage” licensed marriage and family therapist and her partner, Diana Luiz were ready to be married when Judge Walker ruled that Prop 8 was unconstitutional and were sitting at the County Clerk’s office all dressed in white and holding a bouquet of brightly colored sunflowers. Moments later a stay was issued and their mood instantly turned to sadness and disappointment.
“Diana and I are a committed, long-term same sex couple who is still being denied the right to marriage. No person has been harmed in the 18,000 legal same sex marriages that exist in California today”, said Dr. Simmersbach. “But Diana and I are harmed every day by the systems and people who keep marriage out of our reach. We are ready to marry immediately. We want our day to come soon.”
“I don’t really know if I believe in marriage”, thoughtfully exclaimed Benancio Garza, 20 year old Youth Spokesperson and Board Member for Equality Action NOW and American River College Student. “However for certain my main focus right now is to fight for my right to be considered equal in every way under the law and that includes my civil right to marry another male adult if that is what I want to do. Here in America being separated because of my sexual orientation for which I did not choose is hypocritical backwards thinking. We are all different, and we need to accept that fact.”
The question before the California Supreme Court today seems like a trivial technical issue but in reality whatever the Court decides will have far-reaching implications for the whole state. There are many laws that California passes through the initiative process that may not be in line with the California or the U.S. Constitution and the Courts has to determine the law’s constitutionality.
Currently, California’s Attorney General and Governor can decide not to appeal a court decision ruling that an initiative is unconstitutional. But, depending on how the California Supreme Court rules, future Governors may lose the ability to make such final decisions for the state – leaving disfavored groups in California even more vulnerable to unconstitutional initiatives that single them out for attack.
So if the California Supreme Court holds that California law gives sponsors the power to bring an appeal over the objections of the Attorney General and the Governor, the Ninth Circuit would still have to decide whether Prop 8’s supporters meet all the other criteria to appeal under federal law. If the Ninth Circuit allows them to appeal, the Ninth Circuit would then decide whether to uphold or reverse Judge Walker’s ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional.
Oral argument will be televised today beginning at 10:00am on C-SPAN and the California Channel as well as video streamed on the internet. Equality Action NOW and Headhunters/Cornerstone Restaurant well be hosting a viewing party for the community at Headhunters beginning at 10:00am on the corner of 10th and K Streets. The public is invited to attend.
Make no mistake – today’s hearing, and the decision that results from the arguments will be of high interest to constitutional and judicial scholars across the United States. But more importantly, it will be heard and watched by hundreds of thousands of individuals, whose personal current and future lives depend on the outcome.
The California Supreme Court must issue its decision within 90 days of oral argument and is likely to rule even sooner.