SAN FRANCISCO -- In a brief filed today with the California Supreme Court, attorneys representing same-sex couples, Equality California and Our Family Coalition urged the court to strike down as unconstitutional a law that bars same-sex couples from marriage. The couples and organizations are represented by lead counsel the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Heller Ehrman LLP, and the Law Office of David C. Codell.
'We are hopeful that the California Supreme Court will recognize that same-sex couples form committed relationships just like straight couples and shouldn't be barred from the dignity and universal recognition that comes with marriage,' said Alex Cleghorn, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. 'While domestic partnerships provide families with some legal protections, the marriage ban is a painful reminder that same-sex relationships are considered unworthy of marriage.'
The brief filed today charges that state law barring same-sex couples from marriage discriminates based on sexual orientation and sex and violates the fundamental right to marry, which is protected by the California Constitution's guarantees of privacy, intimate association and due process.
"We've seen in our new domestic partnership case in Orange County and from work with lesbians and gay men in domestic partnerships throughout the state that without access to marriage, same-sex couples and their families are still vulnerable under the law," said Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Jennifer C. Pizer. "Lesbian and gay couples in domestic partnerships are constantly having to prove that their relationships are entitled to legal protections and basic respect'but because people don't understand and fully respect domestic partnerships, couples face significant hardships."
The California Supreme Court agreed to hear the case after the California Court of Appeal reversed a decision by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard A. Kramer finding that barring same-sex couples from marriage unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of sex and violates the fundamental right to marry.
'More same-sex couples live in California than in any other state,' said Shannon Minter, Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, who argued before the Court. 'Barring these committed couples from marriage is harmful and unfair. A person's sexual orientation is irrelevant to their ability to forge enduring human bonds and to create a family. Marriage is a cherished legal protection, and it should be equally available to all.'
In 2005, the California Legislature passed AB 849 (sponsored by Assemblyman Mark Leno), the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, which would allow same-sex couples to marry in California. A similar bill, AB 43 (also sponsored by Leno) was reintroduced in December of last year and will be heard in committee later this month.
'Validating and protecting the relationships of loving and committed couples through marriage is good for California and furthers the state's interest in promoting family relationships and protecting family members during times of crisis,' said Geoff Kors, executive director of EQCA, the sponsor of AB 43. 'We hope the state will end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage in the near future so all couples will have the social support and legal protections marriage provides.'
The 15 represented couples have made life-long commitments to each other. Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin have been together more than 50 years. Karen Shane and Judy Sokolower have been together more than 30 years. The couples come from throughout the state and from all walks of life, with some working in business, some in education, and others in health professions. Many of the couples are raising children together and others are retired.
More than 250 religious and civil rights organizations, including the California NAACP, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, California Council of Churches, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and National Black Justice Coalition, have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of marriage for same-sex couples.
This Supreme Court is considering six marriage cases under the title "In re Marriage Cases." The briefs filed today and other information about the case are available at www.aclu.org/caseprofiles, www.nclrights.org; www.lambdalegal.org; and at www.eqca.org.