Calif. Supreme Court Rules 4,000 Gay Marriages Illegal

Thu. August 12, 2004 12:00 AM by

San Francisco, California - The California Supreme Court Thursday ruled that San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom exceeded his authority when he allowed same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses earlier this year.

The court, a 5 - 2 decision, declared that the marriages of gays and lesbians that resulted, more than 4,000, are void.

In their ruling the justices made it clear that the issue in the case was confined to Newsom's actions and the direct results from them but did not involve the constitutional issue of gay marriage. That will decided by the high court at a later date, once the various suits wind their way through the lower courts.

"To avoid any misunderstanding, we emphasize that the substantive question of the constitutional validity of California’s statutory provisions limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman is not before our court in this proceeding, and our decision in this case is not intended, and should not be interpreted, to reflect any view on that issue," the ruling said.

The ruling went on to say that if the state ban on gay marriage is eventually struck down, "same-sex couples then would be free to obtain valid marriage licenses and enter into valid marriages."

In finding Newsom had violated the ban when he allowed gays to marry the court cited several examples of why a local official could not interpret the state Constitution on their own.

"For example, we would face the same legal issue if the statute in question were among those that restrict the possession or require the registration of assault weapons, and a local official, charged with the ministerial duty of enforcing those statutes, refused to apply their provisions because of the official’s view that they violate the Second Amendment of the federal Constitution. In like manner, the same legal issue would be presented if the statute were one of the environmental measures that impose restrictions upon a property owner’s ability to obtain a building permit for a development that interferes with the public’s access to the California coastline, and a local official, charged with the ministerial duty of issuing building permits, refused to apply the statutory limitations because of his or her belief that they effect an uncompensated 'taking' of property in violation of the just compensation clause of the state or federal Constitution."

The court said that it was issuing a writ of mandate directing San Francisco officials to enforce the law unless and "until they are judicially determined to be unconstitutional and to take all necessary remedial steps to undo the continuing effects of the officials’ past unauthorized actions, including making appropriate corrections to all relevant official records and notifying all affected same-sex couples that the same-sex marriages authorized by the officials are void and of no legal effect."

Two Justices Joyce Kennard and Kathryn Mickle Werdegar dissented on the issue of the couples' status, saying the court should refrain from ruling on their marriages before it decides whether the marriage law is constitutional.

Until the constitutional issue is before the court, Kennard said, "it is premature and unwise to assert ... that the thousands of same-sex weddings performed in San Francisco were empty and meaningless ceremonies in the eyes of the law.''

Newsom began allowing gay marriage in the city last February. Thousands of other couples from across the country followed them in getting marriage licenses until the California Supreme Court in March ordered the city to stop.

by Mark Worrall Newscenter
San Francisco Bureau
©® 2004

This article originally appeared on Republished with permission.