Today, the California Supreme Court ruled that state laws limiting the legal status of marriage to male-female couples were unconstitutional:
Same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The court’s 4-to-3 decision striking down state laws that had limited marriages to unions between a man and a woman makes California only the second state, after Massachusetts, to allow same-sex marriages. The decision, which becomes effective in 30 days, is certain to play a role in the presidential campaign.
“In view of the substance and significance of the fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship,” Chief Justice Ronald M. George wrote of marriage for the majority, “the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples.”
California already has a strong domestic partnership law that gives gay and lesbian couples nearly all of the benefits and burdens of heterosexual marriage. The majority said that is not enough.
Given the historic, cultural, symbolic and constitutional significance of the concept of marriage, Chief Justice George wrote, the state cannot limit marriage to opposite-sex couples. The court left open the possibility that another terms could denote state-sanctioned unions so long as that term was used across the board.
The state’s ban on same-sex marriage was based on a law enacted by the Legislature in 1977 and a statewide initiative approved by the voters in 2000, both defining marriage as limited to unions between a man and a woman. The question before the court was whether those laws violate provisions of the state Constitution protecting equality and fundamental rights.
Andrew Sullivan compares this to California’s first-in-the-nation status in striking down miscegenation laws. Though I think that it will take the rest of America a little bit longer to make it’s way into the 21st Century.
The full opinion is here, but this is the part that matters:
We . . . conclude that in view of the substance and significance of the fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship, the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples.
[T]he purpose underlying differential treatment of opposite-sex and same-sex couples embodied in California’s current marriage statutes — the interest in retaining the traditional and well-established definition of marriage — cannot properly be viewed as a compelling state interest for purposes of the equal protection clause, or as necessary to serve such an interest. . . . Accordingly, we conclude that to the extent the current California statutory provisions limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, these statutes are unconstitutional.
By basing their decision in the California Constitution, the Court has essentially made their decision impossible to reverse except by a Constitutional Amendment which, given that this is California, probably won’t happen.
All in all, a job well done.