On Thursday, March 5th, oral arguments will begin in the California Supreme Court Case examining Proposition 8, the amendment that defined away same-sex marriage rights during the November 4th ballot, as gay rights lawyers contend that the nature of Proposition 8 produced a significant change in the constitution, thus rendering the bill an illegal step too far.
Background On Proposition 8
May 15th of 2008, and the California Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage was a right that could no longer be denied under Californian state law. A deluge of some 18,000 same-sex marriages took place, with such high-profiled couples such as Ellen Degenres and her partner, Portia De Rossi, tying the knot.
All the while, the clock was ticking on same-gender unions as marriage traditionalists, who were of the view that marriage should remain a heterosexual affair, pushed for the Proposition 8 bill which would amend the constitution to define marriage in strictly heteronormative terms. It should be noted that ‘Yes on 8′ proponents were also reacting against the Supreme Court’s decision to intervene in something as fundamental as marriage rights, where many felt they had no right to tread.
On November 4th, as Barack Obama learned he would be the next President of the United States, and many cheered as a man of color took his place at the head of the most powerful nation on Earth, Proposition 8 passed a ballot vote with a 52% majority – and 18,000 gay marriages were left in a state of legal limbo. Wide scale protests ensued with gay people across the nation feeling betrayed, confused and let-down.
Were those who were married before the amendment still married? In the eyes of the law, did a gay marriage still mean the same as a heterosexual marriage? And, can such a right be first given to a minority group and then taken away again because another vocal group deems marriage sacred conceptual territory?
These and many more questions will be explored during the Proposition 8 hearing this coming Thursday in San Francisco.
The Legal Sides For The Proposition 8 Hearing
The court will hear arguments as to both the validity of Proposition 8 and the integrity of same-sex marriages already carried out. After the hearing, the Supreme Court will then have 90 days in which to reach a verdict.
Kenneth Starr, a former federal judge and long time traditional marriage supporter, who is perhaps most known for his part in the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky affair inquiry, will lead arguments to uphold Proposition 8 and the gay-marriage ban.
Shannon Minter, a legal director at the National Centre of Lesbian Rights (NCLR) in San Francisco, Advocate columnist and author, will head the team representing individual testimony from couples in California as well as the Equality California organization that seeks equal rights for all.
However, the oral arguments may prove superfluous, as Kate Kendell, also of the NCLR, indicated when she commented to press that, “much of [the court's] main deliberation and thinking has already occurred.”
As a backdrop to this, last Tuesday the State Judiciary Committee approved a Senate version of a resolution meant to strike down Proposition 8 after the Assembly version passed on the 17th of February.
The Race In Civil Rights
At the time of Proposition 8′s passing, and before figures were released that clearly highlighted the contrary, there was speculation that the large black voter turn-out had been instrumental in the same-sex marriage ban passing. After polling figures were seen however, this was found to not be the case, as the biggest support came from the Mormon Church and for reasons of religiosity, rather than a strong ethnicity trend.
Further to this, the Southern Voice, a gay-centric newspaper, reported that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People came out in support of striking down Proposition 8, saying, “[Proposition 8 is] an improper and dangerous alteration of the California Constitution… [stripping] same-sex couples of a fundamental freedom.”
Across the country there are wide-spread demonstrations planned this week, with “H8″ plackards in hand as the gay community comes out in force, possibly from fear that a certain complacency during the November 4th vote may have partially led to Proposition 8′s passing. It is likely that Proposition 8 supporters will also be out in force to exercise their right to demonstrate also.
So, we ask the question: