I believe the justices made the right decision this time. The decision was 6-1. Now, the issue is developing a strategy to repeal the state constitutional provision defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. And to do so in a manner which respects those who favor that definition.
The court said the scope of the decision was narrow. I’m trying to get the opinion on line, but the State Supreme Court’s site is understandably slow. Here’s a link to the decision. Seems their The decision boiled down to the use of the term “marriage.” whether Prop 8 was an amendment to or revision of the state constitution. A revision must first pass through the legislature. The court concluded that this was an amendment because as
. . . a qualitative matter, the act of limiting access to the designation of marriage to opposite-sex couples does not have a substantial or, indeed, even a minimal effect on the governmental plan or framework of California that existed prior to the amendment.
Basically, this means the state will still recognize same-sex relationships, but will not call them marriages.
The court has upheld the same-sex marriages that took place between the Court’s ruling last year and Election Day 2008.
UPDATE: The real test to see if gay marriage advocates have learned the lessons from their failure to defeat Prop 8 at the ballot box will be how they respond to this decision. Should they respond as did many angry activists in the wake of the passage of the proposition, they reduce their chances of changing the constitution.
Should they instead behave responsibly (as I suggested here), showing respect for supporters of the status quo, they increase the chances of repealing the constitutional provision enacted with votes approved Prop 8 last fall. (Law Dork offers a similar perspective, asking people to eschew anger: “Rather than spouting anger at these rallies, organizers and speakers should be spouting information about legislative battles going on in their states and counties.“)
UP-UPDATE: I’m reviewing the opinion now. Seems the court finally gets the idea of judicial restraint:
Regardless of our views as individuals on this question of policy, we recognize as judges and as a court our responsibility to confine our consideration to a determination of the constitutional validity and legal effect of the measure in question. It bears emphasis in this regard that our role is limited to interpreting and applying the principles and rules embodied in the California Constitution, setting aside our own personal beliefs and values.
Shouldn’t judges always so adjudicate cases?
The justices see their ruling as a narrow one:
. . . the principal issue before us concerns the scope of the right of the people, under the provisions of the California Constitution, to change or alter the state Constitution itself through the initiative process so as to incorporate such a limitation as an explicit section of the state Constitution.
UP-UP-UPDATE: Seems some activists would rather accuse than argue. AP reports demonstrators changing “shame on you” in front of the San Francisco courthouse where the ruling was announced. Let’s hope such juvenile antics don’t define the response to the ruling.
UP-UP-UP-UPDATE: Law professor William A. Jacobson reviews the ruling.
UPDATE FROM BRUCE: A great perspective from Gabriel Malor at Ace of Spades! Read the whole thing!!
Our laws and constitutions are not meaningless. And our courts are not so broken as people claim. The justice system works and works well most of the time. Should we tweak it with appropriate legislation (and props, where possible) and by appointing hard-working minimalist judges? Hell yeah. But exclaiming every time a court decision goes the other way that “the activist black-robed tyrants are at it again” undermines the very point that laws exist for a reason.
[RELATED STORY: Prop 8 upheld by CA Supreme Court – Patrick Range McDonald]
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