Nation's Largest State to Get Equal Marriage Rights for Lesbians & Gays!
At 12 noon Central Time today the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of equal marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples in what is very likely to be an important shot in the arm for the drive towards full legal equality for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.
Lack of equal legal recognition for our relationships is a core element of the continuing discrimination that LGBT people face in the United States. The California court explicitly cited the state's equal protection clause in striking down the discrimination, stating that "an individual's sexual orientation like a person's race or gender does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights." The court also ruled that marriages performed outside of California must be recognized as legal by the State of California.
On February 24, 2004, Robin Tyler and Diane Olson; and Rev. Troy Perry and his husband Phillip Ray De Blieck, became the first two couples in California to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ban on same gender marriages (Robin Tyler, et al v. County of Los Angeles). They were represented pro bono by prominent civil rights attorney Gloria Allred of Allred, Maroko and Goldberg.
Chicago's Gay Liberation Network is proud of our long association with Tyler in several efforts for LGBT freedom, including the successful Stop Dr Laura campaign, the "day of decision" campaign around the Supreme Court Lawrence v. Texas decision, and others. Tyler was Executive Director of StopDrLaura.com and GLN's Andy Thayer was its National Action Coordinator.
Today's California Supreme Court decision is rich with historical parallels. California in 1948 was the first state in the modern era to strike down laws banning inter-racial marriage, leading to a nationwide drive to junk the bigoted laws, culminating in the 1967 Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision striking down such laws around the nation. Mildred Loving, who was of both African American and Native American descent and who just passed away on May 2nd, counted herself as a supporter of both inter-racial and same gender marriage rights before she died.
Opponents of equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians are fond of pointing to national opinion polls which show only a minority support such rights. What they conveniently omit is the fact that huge majorities opposed inter-racial marriage rights during the era when the courts struck down the racist laws. A 1958 Gallup poll found that 96% of white Americans opposed inter-racial marriage rights. An overwhelming majority still opposed equal marriage rights for inter-racial couples at the time of the 1967 Loving decision.
A vocal minority within the LGBT community has echoed right wing opposition to equal marriage rights for same sex couples, albeit for different reasons, claiming such drives for legal equality are "assimilationist" or "heteronormative." Such positions ironically give back-handed support to the right-wing anti-equality drives and violate what should be a cardinal rule for freedom activists -- self-determination for discriminated against groups, so long as such self-determination does not violate the rights of others. Against "gay marriage"? Fine. Don't have one then! But don't bolster the right wing campaign against such rights for others, who in their self-determination, want to exercise such rights.
As our community ages, along with the rest of the country, the right to marriage has taken on a particular urgency with some same gender couples. Social Security and pension survivors' benefits, the right to uncontested inheritance of a deceased spouse's housing, and unquestioned right of visitation in hospitals loom as important issues for older gay and lesbian couples.
Far from equal marriage rights being a concern only of white, upper class male couples, studies by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and others show that Lesbian couples, especially those in the African American and Latino communities, are far more likely to be raising children than white male couples. Like young heterosexual couples with kids, or kids on the way, the desire to provide a more secure future for one's children is a primary motivator for marriage in the LGBT community. Wealthier same gender couples, with their greater access to lawyers to construct the intricate (and imperfect) legal documents that might give a facsimile of equal partner rights, are actually less likely to need equal marriage rights than working class and poor same gender couples who can't afford those options.
The California Supreme Court victory comes at a time when the Democratic Party has proven itself stunningly ineffectual in pressing for equal marriage rights in the legislative arena. Like with Massachusetts at the time of that state's landmark Supreme Judicial Court decision, the victorious California decision came out of a court packed with Republican justices -- three of the four who voted for us were appointed by Republican governors, including the author of the pro-gay opinion, Chief Justice Ronald George.
In Illinois, the bill to provide rights to same-sex partners of Chicago teachers recently failed in the House of Representatives despite a 15 vote Democratic majority. Both remaining Democratic Presidential candidates are opposed to our equal right to marry, favoring instead "separate but equal" civil unions, a particularly ironic position for former University of Chicago professor of Constitutional Law Barack Obama. In contrast, Rev. Jeremiah Wright supports equal marriage rights and, unlike Obama, doesn't cite his Christian beliefs in opposing them.
With California now leading the way, it is time for Illinois LGBTs to forthrightly reject the demeaning "solution" of second class citizenship offered by civil unions and domestic partners, arcane phrases that should be consigned to historical footnotes. We can win full legal equality, including full and equal marriage rights, but only if we uncompromisingly demand it. We demean ourselves and implicitly give credence to right wing arguments against our community when we shrink from demanding anything less.
As the experience of other groups' freedom struggles demonstrates, legal equality is not a silver bullet that cures all ills. Similarly, legal equality is not the be-all and end-all for LGBT freedom. Issues of anti-LGBT violence, supportive environments for LGBT youth inside and out of the schools, not to mention health care for all, an end to poverty, and other issues are not solved by simple legal equality. But full legal equality -- of which lack of recognition for our relationships is the most central deficiency -- would be a tremendous boost towards advancement on all fronts for LGBT freedom. Once we are finally citizens in this country -- defined as having equal legal rights with our peers -- we will have a much stronger ability to demand just and equal treatment in our schools, workplaces and neighborhoods.
The full 121 page majority opinion, plus dissenting opinions, can be viewed here.
A news release issued by the Supreme Court can be view here.
-- Gay Liberation Network