High court le­gal­izes same- sex mar­riage na­tion­wide

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Maura Dolan and Lee Rom­ney


SAN FRAN­CISCO — Re­tired Cal­i­for­nia Chief Jus­tice Ron­ald M. Ge­orge, aboard a cruise ship in the Arc­tic last June, was din­ing with his wife when a waiter brought over a bot­tle of wine. At­tached was a note: “Can we come over and give you a hug?”

A pas­sen­ger on the cruise, whose mis­sion was to ob­serve po­lar bears, had Googled all the other trav­el­ers’ names.

The wine and note came from two les­bian cou­ples who learned from another pas­sen­ger that Ge­orge was on­board. They wanted to thank him for writ­ing the 2008 Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court de­ci­sion that struck down state laws lim­it­ing mar­riage to be­tween a man and a woman.

“We were 500 miles from the North Pole,” Ge­orge re­called Fri­day, still as­ton­ished at the ges­ture, “and this was in 2014.”

The in­ci­dent un­der­scored the huge role Cal­i­for­nia played in the march to­ward same- sex mar­riage, which was le­gal­ized in all 50 states Fri­day by the U. S. Supreme Court. From gay wed­dings at San Fran­cisco City Hall to a widely watched trial at a San Fran­cisco fed­eral

court­house, Cal­i­for­nia helped raise the na­tion’s aware­ness of the dis­crim­i­na­tion gay cou­ples and their fam­i­lies faced and the rea­sons mar­riage mat­tered to them.

It be­gan with Gavin New­som, who in 2004 had just been elected mayor of San Fran­cisco. Sit­ting in the au­di­ence dur­ing Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s state of the union ad­dress, New­som lis­tened as Bush called for a fed­eral con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to ban same­sex mar­riage.

On his way out, he heard some­one say, “I am so glad the pres­i­dent is go­ing to deal with those ho­mo­sex­u­als.”

He said he called his staff that evening to get to work.

Kate Ken­dell, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the San Fran­cisco- based Na­tional Cen­ter for Les­bian Rights, re­mem­bers the week in early Fe­bru­ary 2004 when New­som’s of­fice called her.

His aides wanted to let Ken­dell know that New­som was “in­ter­ested in is­su­ing mar­riage li­censes to same­sex cou­ples.”

“My f irst re­ac­tion was to say, ‘ Thank you,’ and my sec­ond re­ac­tion was, ‘ But wait, I think it might be too soon,’” Ken­dell re­called Fri­day.

By the end of the week, it be­came “very clear,” she said, “that the mayor was go­ing ahead. He had a vi­sion that ex­ceeded mine.”

The fol­low­ing week, on Feb. 12, Del Martin and Phyl­lis Lyon, then 82 and 78, re­spec­tively, were mar­ried in a pri­vate room on City Hall’s f irst f loor, with Ken­dell present, eyes tear­ing.

New­som said he ex­pected a court to is­sue an or­der against the city as soon as the f irst cou­ple was mar­ried. But San Fran­cisco judges, find­ing no im­mi­nent threat, re­fused.

Word got out and sev­eral other cou­ples showed up to marry. Within 24 hours, a line of cou­ples cir­cled the block. Many had their chil­dren with them. Two men car­ried their ba­bies in back­packs. Aged par­ents were there to wit­ness the cer­e­monies.

Con­fetti was thrown. Cars honked in con­grat­u­la­tions. Protesters showed up, and City Hall be­gan to get threats. New­som re­mem­bered hav­ing to sneak in a back door.

“We were just re­al­iz­ing the mag­ni­tude of the de­ci­sion,” New­som, now lieu­tenant gover­nor, said Fri­day. “It was so much big­ger than we had ever imag­ined.”

The wed­dings con­tin­ued for nearly a month — more than 4,000 cou­ples from around the coun­try ex­changed vows — be­fore the Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court or­dered them to stop. The court ruled that New­som had ex­ceeded his au­thor­ity. An elected of­fi­cial could not uni­lat­er­ally de­cide that a law vi­o­lated the con­sti­tu­tion. That was a mat­ter for the courts.

Prom­i­nent Democrats crit­i­cized New­som for rais­ing a di­vi­sive is­sue at a time when the party was try­ing to re­cap­ture the pres­i­dency. New­som said he be­gan to doubt that San Fran­cisco would re­elect him, and many of his back­ers be­gan to dis­tance them­selves.

A prom­i­nent po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant later blamed him and the gay wed­dings for John Kerry’s pres­i­den­tial de­feat. Be­fore he was elected in 2008, Pres­i­dent Obama re­port­edly did not want to be pho­tographed with New­som.

Other states passed con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments against same- sex mar­riage, mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult for courts to over­turn bans. New­som re­mem­bered feel­ing “pounded” on na­tional tele­vi­sion.

“I started ques­tion­ing, ‘ Was this the right thing? Was it too much, too soon, too fast?’ Oth­ers who had sup­ported it also started hav­ing ques­tions. It was a lonely four or f ive years,” he said.

When San Fran­cisco’s le­gal chal­lenge of the mar­riage ban reached the Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court, Chief Jus­tice Ge­orge as­signed him­self to write the rul­ing. He wrote two ver­sions, one in fa­vor of same- sex mar­riage, the other against, and asked the other six jus­tices for their views.

Three fa­vored end­ing the mar­riage ban. Three were against it. Ge­orge de­cided to join the three who be­lieved the ban vi­o­lated the state con­sti­tu­tion.

But the court’s mo­men­tous de­ci­sion was in force for only six months. Op­po­nents of same- sex mar­riage, many of them Chris­tian con­ser­va­tives, won pas­sage of Propo­si­tion 8, a Novem­ber 2008 bal­lot mea­sure amend­ing the state con­sti­tu­tion to def ine mar­riage as a union be­tween one man and one woman.

The bat­tle soon shifted to fed­eral court. Chief U. S. Dis­trict Judge Vaughn R. Walker was to pre­side over a fed­eral con­sti­tu­tional chal­lenge of the mea­sure.

To ev­ery­one’s sur­prise, Walker wanted a trial. He wanted to test such ques­tions as whether sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion could be changed, whether same- sex mar­riage hurt chil­dren and whether gay mar­riage would hurt op­po­site- sex mat­ri­mony.

Ev­i­dence in fa­vor of same- sex mar­riage over­whelmed the op­po­si­tion.

Though Walker had been con­sid­ered a mere fact- gatherer, his rul­ing to over­turn Propo­si­tion 8 be­came the fi­nal word on the sub­ject in Cal­i­for­nia. The U. S. Supreme Court de­cided in 2013 that the op­po­nents had lacked stand­ing to ap­peal Walker’s rul­ing, leav­ing it in place.

Gov. Jerry Brown de­clared the is­sue de­cided, and or­dered coun­ties to marry same- sex cou­ples. Atty. Gen. Ka­mala D. Harris rushed to San Fran­cisco City Hall to marry one of the cou­ples who had brought the fed­eral case.

On Fri­day, those who had fought for same- sex mar­riage in Cal­i­for­nia got word that the high court had made its de­ci­sion.

Therese Stewart, for­merly a lawyer in the San Fran­cisco city at­tor­ney’s off ice, had spear­headed the state case and worked on the fed­eral case. She is now a jus­tice on the Cal­i­for­nia Court of Ap­peal.

She said she was sur­pris­ingly sub­dued when she heard the news. “We have had so many ups and downs that af­ter a while you steel your­self against the downs,” said Stewart, who mar­ried her long­time part­ner in 2008. “Some­how when the ups come, they are not quite as ex­cit­ing.”

Still, she called the ma­jor­ity opin­ion “beau­ti­ful.”

Ge­orge, at home in Los An­ge­les, said he was re­lieved. He said he felt that the Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court had been vin­di­cated.

“Frankly, I also had another thought: that it is so nice to fi­nally have this is­sue be­hind us,” he said.

Look­ing back at the ef­forts in Cal­i­for­nia, Ken­dell cred­ited them with start­ing a “bil­lion con­ver­sa­tions at the work­place or at the din­ner ta­ble or among friends and col­leagues, on hunt­ing trips or on va­ca­tions.”

And Lyon, now 90, who mar­ried her late part­ner at the f irst San Fran­cisco City Hall wed­ding, laughed and laughed when told the news.

“Well how about that?” she said. “For good­ness’ sakes.”

Mladen Antonov AFP/ Getty I mages

A CROWD cel­e­brates on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington af­ter the jus­tices ruled 5 to 4 in fa­vor of lif ting same- sex mar­riage bans. Pres­i­dent Obama praised the de­ci­sion as a “vic­tory for Amer­ica.”

Mar­cus Yam Los An­ge­les Times


left, and Ed­die Daniels take a self ie while wait­ing to be mar­ried at the L. A. County reg­is­trar’s Bev­erly Hills off ice.

Bar­bara David­son Los An­ge­les Times

OUT­SIDE San Fran­cisco City Hall in March 2009, peo­ple await news of the state Supreme Court’s hear­ing on Propo­si­tion 8, which banned same- sex mar­riage. The mea­sure was later over­turned in fed­eral court.

Robert Durell Los An­ge­les Times

DAWN MILES, left, and Bronya Oldfield marry in San Fran­cisco City Hall on Feb. 24, 2004, while the city was f irst al­low­ing same- sex unions.


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