LOS ANGELES - As hundreds of same-sex couples in Massachusetts become the first in the country to obtain marriage licenses pursuant to a ruling by a state supreme court, lesbian and gay couples in California fervently hope that the legislature and courts will move quickly to end marriage discrimination in California as well.
"We are thrilled for the couples who have fought so hard to achieve this remarkable victory for equality in Massachusetts," said Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, the first same-sex couple to be married in California after San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Assessor Mabel Teng authorized the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in February of this year. "Fifty-one years ago when we began our life together, we couldn't have imagined this day would come, and yet even now, it is long overdue," said Lyon and Martin. "As we celebrate today with the couples in Massachusetts, we are keenly aware that lesbian and gay couples in California do not yet have a secure right to marry in our own state."
Lyon, 79, and Martin, 83, have been together for more than fifty-one years. They were married in California on February 12, 2004. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has asked the California Supreme Court to invalidate their marriage and that of the more than 4,000 other same-sex couples who obtained marriage licenses in San Francisco.
On March 12, less than 24 hours after the California Supreme Court order issued an order directing San Francisco to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Lancy Woo and Christy Chung, a lesbian couple who have been together for sixteen years and have a five year old daughter, filed a lawsuit seeking the right to marry. The lawsuit asserts that excluding lesbian and gay people from marriage violates the California Constitution.
"Like the many other lesbian and gay couples who love and commit to each other, we understand the deep desire on the part of same-sex couples in Massachusetts to secure respect and equality for their relationships," said Woo and Chung. "It is out of that desire that we have committed to be part of the lawsuit here in California that is challenging marriage discrimination and seeking to end the inequality faced by lesbian and gay couples in this state once and for all."
Woo and Chung, as well as nine other same-sex couples who wish to marry, are represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the ACLU, and Lambda Legal. Equality California, the statewide advocacy group for LGBT people, and Our Family Coalition, a Bay Area advocacy group for same-sex parents and their children, are also plaintiffs in the case.
Equality California is also the organizational sponsor of AB 1967, Assemblyman Mark Leno's Marriage License Non-Discrimination Act, which would amend the California marriage statutes to permit same-sex couples to marry. On April 20, 2004, in an historic 8 to 3 vote, AB 1967 was voted favorably out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, marking the first time such a bill has received a favorable committee vote in any state legislature in the country.
On May 12, 2004, the Assembly Appropriations Committee placed the bill in suspense, pending the committee's review of a UCLA study showing that permitting same-sex couples to marry will save the state millions of dollars annually. "We are inspired by the tremendous courage of same-sex couples in Massachusetts, who refused to accept anything less than full equality and dignity for their families," said Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "We will not rest until we achieve the same safety, dignity, and protection for our families here."
"California couples deserve the same rights currently enjoyed by the people of Massachusetts," said Martha Matthews, Bohnett Attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. "Loving couples throughout the state should be allowed to fulfill their commitment to each other regardless of sexual orientation."
In addition to defending the City and County of San Francisco against the Attorney General's lawsuit challenging the City's authority to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, City Attorney Dennis Herrera has also filed a direct challenge to the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. That lawsuit has been consolidated with Woo v. Lockyer and is now proceeding in San Francisco Superior Court. On May 25, the California Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the Attorney General's lawsuit. City attorney Terry Stewart will argue on behalf of the City and County of San Francisco on that date.