Dozens of same-sex marriage supporters convened at Los Angeles City Hall on Thursday, March 5 to watch the oral hearings on the validity of Proposition 8 live from the California Supreme Court in San Francisco.
On November 4, 2008 California voters passed Proposition 8 by a margin of 52 to 48 percent, repudiating the right of same-sex couples to marry in the state. However, two weeks later, the state Supreme Court accepted the challenges filed by three lawsuits contesting the validity of the proposition. Their central argument was that the measure was a constitutional revision, not an amendment, and therefore could only be placed before voters by the state Legislature.
“Proposition 8 would establish the principle that a bare majority could strip a minority of even the most fundamental of rights by simply going to the ballot box,” said Tara Borelli, a staff attorney at Lambda Legal.
“We think that’s such a profound structural change to the existing principles of the constitution that it constitutes a revision.”
The seven justices of the supreme court heard more than three hours of arguments from lawyers representing both sides of the debate.
Immediate reactions from the crowd of same-sex marriage supporters varied, but most were somber.
“I’m actually very worried right now about what the decision’s going to be,” said Kim Ridley who married her partner September 1.
“I felt that regardless of the strong performance, the case is very difficult to argue because of the statutes and the way that the court is very limited in its jurisprudence,” said Tony Cochran.
Legal experts believe that while Proposition 8 is unique in that in pits a minority against the will of the majority, legal precedent supports upholding the measure.
“A couple a of the key justices who decided last year to extend marriage to gay couples seemed very skeptical that Proposition 8 was not valid – that the people had gone to the ballot box, that they had spoken and the court was going to defer to that,” said Brad Sears, executive director of The Williams Institute at UCLA Law School.
Justice Joyce L. Kennard, who voted to legalize same-sex marriage in May 2008, pressed same-sex marriage attorneys.
“I would like to hear form you why this court can willy-nilly disregard the will of the people?” she asked.
If the court rules against them, same-sex marriage supporters say they’re ready to go back to the ballot box.
“This isn’t a society where we should put the civil rights of majority groups up to a popular vote but if that becomes necessary then the community will be determined and we’ll work hard to do that,” said Borelli.
“We could also consult with our state legislators and have it be a peace of legislation that is brought to the assembly and state senate,” said same-sex supporter Lindsey Horvath.
For now, both sides await the court’s ruling due within 90 days.