INFINITE DEBATE: Gay couple console one another after Supreme Court verdict.
The great debate of California Prop. 8 reached the high court and the decision is in, but it is still quite unclear where African Americans and the majority of Californians stand on the infinitely contested gay marriage question.
Last Tuesday’s decision by the California Supreme Court concerning the constitutionality of Proposition 8 appears to have created more problems that it has solved. Proponents of both sides of the issue vowed to continue the fight.
The Court ruled six to one that the November 2008 vote on the proposition banning same-sex marriages is constitutional and they added that the 18,000 marriages that have been performed should remain legal. Is that an ambiguous ruling or has it created more confusion?
It seems certain that the decision guarantees that the fight over same-sex marriage will continue and will very likely end up at the United States Supreme Court. Many organizations filed amicus briefs in this litigation including the NAACP. Also some in the Black community abhorred the idea of equating same-sex marriage with the rights that were denied to Black people because of race – rights for which many died.
Civil-rights attorney Connie Rice was very clear in her distinction about the proposition. “Proposition 8 has nothing to do with religious marriage. There isn’t any church or religion that will be forced to perform a same-sex marriage or a racial marriage, and a marriage as a sacrament of a church is a separate matter, and no state can legislate that constitutionally or legislatively. Nothing in the constitution can force you to perform an interracial marriage and it’s the same thing for same sex-marriage. Secular marriage is a contractual right under state law. There are two kinds of marriage and Prop. 8 had nothing to do with religious marriage,” said Rice.
Rev. Eric Lee, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) has somewhat of a different view of the ruling. Lee added, “I was surprised by the lopsided decision to uphold Proposition 8. I think that the Supreme Court was under tremendous public pressure to uphold the majority will of the voters. My challenge, however, is that the majority is not always right; African Americans have a particular experience with that through segregated public schools. The Supreme Court had to rule in the 1954 “Brown vs the Board” of Education that separate was not equal, and that the civil rights and the voting rights act were acts of the legislature. Because if it was left up to the majority, with African Americans making up 12 percent of the population, we would never have achieved some level of equality. The history of this country on discrimination speaks for itself.”
From Rice’s point of view, the religious people who are in the forefront are there apparently for personal or non-religious reasons because the court’s ruling has not changed the separation of church and state as it relates to marriage. “It’s good propaganda; you’d be violating religious rights guaranteed under the United States Constitution if you were to walk in a church and make the pastor perform a same-sex marriage, you can’t do that,” Rice continued, “You can’t walk in to a Mormon Temple and make them do an interracial marriage. And if they’re going to use federal money they can’t allow discriminatory practices. And this is what’s dangerous about it: With Proposition 8, you now have established a supreme court law that with a simple vote of the majority, the majority has the right to take away rights from the minority.”
Though she claimed not to be an expert in this area, Professor Laurie Levinson of Loyola Law School was gracious in providing a legal opinion of the Court’s decision: “I was not surprised by the court’s decision; I was very impressed by Justice (Carlos) Moreno’s dissent. I think that eventually the court will have to deal with the issue as to whether this is a violation of equal protection; I think that California has a unique structure of initiative voting. The whole question of whether there’ll be gay marriages in California is still to be resolved.
Pastor William S. Epps of the Second Baptist Church spoke strictly for himself prefacing his statement with the comment that he was not speaking for the members of his church, said, “I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and I don’t think that any law should prevent people from the same sex from being married. The Supreme Court has ruled and therefore, until it becomes law, we have to be law-abiding citizens.”
To gauge the pulse of the community, the “Sentinel” conducted a random survey of the working people about the ruling. Suyapa Portillo, who along with her partner, was a plaintiff in the court case and the eye of the legal storm. They obviously were not among the first 18,000 marriages that had benefited from the November vote. She said, “I really feel sad and disappointed in the California Supreme Court; they have chosen to validate Prop. 8 that prohibits me and my partner from getting married, and this is really problematic because this proposition actually changes the California constitution.”
Another community resident, Dr. Rachelle James, who saw the actions of the court as a reoccurrence of the past, commented, “As someone who’s lived through the civil rights struggle, experienced the brunt of Jim Crow, has seen hatred manifested in all of its ugly ways, people are so narrow-minded to want to control behavior and actions of other Americans. In no uncertain terms, it is a civil rights issue.”
Prior to the Court’s decision, there was a press conference held in Leimert Park where several representatives of several organizations were in attendance including “California Faith for Equality,” “Equality California,” “LAMBDA Legal,” “Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund” (MALDEF), “American Civil Liberties Union” (ACLU) and the “Asian Pacific American Legal Center.” Also present was Rocky Delgadillo, Los Angeles city attorney, who echoed the mood of the gathering thus, “As a public servant, I am deeply disappointed and that is an under-statement – equal protection under the law should be just that. I am disappointed in today’s ruling but we will continue this fight. None of us can rest when our destination is justice.”
Followed by Ramona Ripston of the ACLU, who said, “Shame on California; once a leader now a disappointment. Marriage is a right; it cannot be denied to anyone.”
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Lieutenant-governor John Garamendi issued statements voicing their positions on the ruling. Bass stated: “Today is a setback for equality in California, but it will not be the end of the story. When marriage equality legislation was first introduced in the legislature, it couldn’t get out of committee. Since then we’ve passed marriage equality bills twice and more than 60 legislators signed the amicus brief last November trying to overturn the inequities in Proposition 8. The people of California and the tide of history are clearly moving toward equality.”
Villaraigosa wrote: “While there is much to criticize in today’s court decision and there will be plenty of debates about our path forward, one thing is clear: this debate will rest in the hands of the people. And that might just be the best place for it because the fight for equality is not about morality or religion, our schools or our places of work. It’s about real people and real human beings. It’s about men and women trying to lead successful lives with those they love. It’s about parents hoping to raise a family and ready to accept the responsibilities that come along with a lifelong commitment to your spouse and your children.”
In a similar mode, Garamendi’s wrote the following: “Today we lost an important battle, but on this disappointing day, it’s worth remembering that the final outcome of this struggle has already been determined. Time is on our side, and Californians will one day soon repeal Proposition 8.”
Lee also added, “People have the option of solemnizing it in a church or having done in a courtroom or a judge’s chambers. If the court has to decide if it’s a civil institution or a religious institution, when there’s a divorce and it comes to the distribution of property and the determination of child visitation, and child support; who makes that determination, is it the church or is it the state?”
Supporters of today’s ruling say that the historic definition of marriage and the will of the people has been bolstered today in California by the court and their sound legal decision.
Kenneth Starr, dean of the Pepperdine University School of Law and former U.S. Solicitor General, appeared on behalf of the proponents of Prop 8. California Attorney General and former governor Edmund “Jerry” Brown argued against it.
Finally, there is a trend among some of the states that seem to favor same-sex marriage. They include Iowa, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine, while the debate is raging in several other states.