California Supremes Overturn Gay Marriage
The California Supreme Court on Thursday voided the nearly 4,000 same-sex marriages sanctioned in San Francisco this year and ruled unanimously that the mayor overstepped his authority by issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. The court said the city violated the law when it issued the certificates, since both legislation and a voter-approved measure defined marriage as a union between a man and woman. The justices separately decided with a 5-2 vote to nullify the marriages peformed between Feb. 12 and March 11, when the court halted the weddings. Their legality, Justice Joyce Kennard wrote, must wait until courts resolve the constitutionality of state laws that restrict marriages to opposite-sex couples.
The same-sex marriages had virtually no legal value, but powerful symbolism. Their nullification by the high court dismayed Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license in San Francisco. “Del is 83 years old and I am 79,” Lyon said. “After being together for more than 50 years, it is a terrible blow to have the rights and protections of marriage taken away from us. At our age, we do not have the luxury of time.”
The court did not resolve whether the California Constitution would permit a same-sex marriage, ruling instead on the narrow issue of whether local officials could bypass state judicial and legislative branches. Chief Justice Ronald George noted that Thursday’s ruling doesn’t address “the substantive legal rights of same sex couples. In actuality, the legal issue before us implicates the interest of all individuals in ensuring that public officials execute their official duties in a manner that respects the limits of the authorities granted to them as officeholders.”
Undoubtedly, this is the correct result on that issue. Clearly, mayors can’t overturn state constitutions on their merest whim. Only courts can do that.