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Civil rights groups and cities
urge court to allow same-sex marriage

Photo by Luke Thomas

By Julia Cheever

September 26, 2007

Dozens of religious and civil rights groups along with 19 California cities and counties asked the state Supreme Court in San Francisco today to rule there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

The requests were made in about 30 friend-of-the-court briefs filed in a pending case that consolidates six lawsuits disputing whether gay and lesbian couples have a right to marry under the California constitution.

The high court has not yet scheduled a date but is expected to hear arguments in the case early next year. The panel's seven justices will then have 90 days to issue a written ruling.

One of the friend-of-the-court briefs was filed by the California Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The group's president, Alice Huffman, said, "We are not treating all Californians equally if some can marry and others cannot."

A brief filed by 144 religious organizations and 266 individual clergy members argues that the principles of religious freedom and separation of church and state require giving same sex couples equal access to civil marriage.

The Rev. Neil Thomas, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church Los Angeles and chair of California Faith for Equality, said the brief "bears witness to our highest religious values, honoring love, equality and commitment in human relations."

State laws limiting marriage to the union of a man and a woman are being defended by the California attorney general's office, which has argued that heterosexual marriage is deeply rooted in California history and tradition and that same-sex couples have equivalent rights and protections through domestic partnerships.

The state was supported by a friend-of-the-court brief filed in June by Judicial Watch, a conservative public-interest group, which maintained that courts shouldn't intrude on the marriage laws passed by the Legislature and a voter initiative.

"The judiciary should not innovate social policy," Judicial Watch argued in its filing.

The six lawsuits before the state Supreme Court include four filed by the city of San Francisco and a total of 19 gay and lesbian couples seeking the right to marry.

The other two lawsuits oppose same-sex marriage and were filed by the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Campaign for California Families.

The same-sex marriage supporters are appealing a ruling in which a Court of Appeal panel in San Francisco last year upheld the state laws by a 2-1 vote.

The appeals court majority said the Legislature and voters had a rational basis for restricting marriage to heterosexual couples while at the same time giving same-sex couples equal benefits through domestic partnerships.

The panel said, "Courts simply do not have the authority to create new rights, especially when doing so involves changing the definition of so fundamental an institution as marriage."

Other civil rights groups filing briefs in support of same-sex marriage today include the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund and more than 60 Asian-Pacific Islander groups.

Bay Area cities and towns signing on to a brief supporting the appeal include Berkeley, Cloverdale, Cotati, Fairfax, San Jose, Oakland, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and Sebastopol.

Counties joining the local governments' friend-of-the-court brief include Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz.

The brief contends the state laws force the counties to "improperly and unconstitutionally discriminate against their gay and lesbian residents" by denying them marriage licenses.

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.





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