By: Joe Walsh
On Thursday, the California Supreme Court convened to hear arguments about the constitutionality of Proposition 8.
At this point, it seems that the proposition will stand, given that it was a revision to the state constitution; not an amendment to it.
“I hate that the state America has always looked to as the cutting edge of social progress has come to this,” said Sal Furino, a junior at Marist College. “I’m bummed that the court allowed it, and then months later, the people overturned it. That’s democracy though, for better or worse.”
The court has a difficult decision in its hands. If it overturns Prop 8, it sets a dangerous precedent for the power of the people’s vote. One where the court can decide to overturn any decision made by the people. Kenneth Starr alluded to these ideas during his statements to the court.
“This may be the one time I agree with Kenneth Starr,” said Ryan Kupfer, a junior at Marist. “On a legal level, he has a point saying that the court can’t just choose to overturn a decision made by the people. It would be an insult to our form of government, regardless of its intended outcome.”
The state will uphold all of the 18,000 marriages that took place from the ruling last May, until the Prop 8 passed in November.
“When the highest court of the state declares that same-sex couples have the right to marry…how can one deny the validity of those marriages?” asked Justice Marvin Baxter during the hearing. Justice Baxter dissented from the May ruling throwing out the opposite-sex-only marriage law.
California at this time still allows domestic partnership, which is similar to civil union, but varies state to state. California affords more rights to couples than other places like, Washington D.C.
For those who are unsure of the differences between marriage and the more common civil union, the distinctions are significant. Marriage, outside of the loving and religious sense, is a legal statute that establishes kinship. It affords federally recognized rights to a couple regardless of what state they live in, like the filing of joint-taxes.
Civil unions only work on a state level. They do not receive federal benefits and are not recognized in all states, thereby prohibiting rights like the filing of joint-taxes. The famous TV scheme to “marry someone to get your green card” also does not apply to a civil union.
“I think this is going to get misinterpreted by many people,” Kupfer said. “This legal debate might stall other states’, like New York’s, attempts at progress towards recognizes gay-marriage.”
Some California citizens like Therese Stewart, San Francisco chief deputy attorney, are still fighting for the right to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.
“A guarantee of equality that is subject to exceptions by the majority is no guarantee at all,” Stewart said during the hearings.
The hearings have even been addressed by U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
“This is unacceptable and this shows why we have always got to be vigilant, always got to fight homophobic behavior and any form of discrimination,” Brown said at his first ever LBGT reception.
His remarks were passionate, though in the U.K., only civil unions are recognized.
In another first, the court broadcast the hearings live via the California Channel and the internet. That way anyone with interest in the hearings could view it for themselves, even if they do not live in California.
This marks a new territory as the U.S. Supreme Court has never allowed cameras in on their hearings. The live footage is a new step towards governmental transparency. It shows the public how decisions are made by the courts and in what manner they are conducted.