Buggered Mind of Neale Sourna, The

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Thursday, September 16, 2004

Planet Out: Lawyers begin California marriage 'battle'

Community - Planet Out
Planet Out
Lawyers begin California marriage 'battle'

Fri Sep 3, 7:50 PM ET
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Tom Musbach, PlanetOut Network

SUMMARY: Gay rights advocates, 12 same-sex couples and the city of San Francisco geared up Thursday for the first round of a major court challenge in California over same-sex marriage rights.

Gay rights advocates, 12 same-sex couples and the city of San Francisco geared up Thursday for the first round of a major court challenge in California over the rights of same-sex couples to marry.

"This is the beginning of what is going to be the decisive battle," said city attorney Dennis Herrera at a news conference, after he and other lawyers filed opening briefs in the case. The 12 couples are represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Lambda Legal and the ACLU.

The legal brief filed on behalf of the couples argues that the state law excluding same-sex couples from marriage violates the California Constitution.

"Exclusion from marriage also marks lesbian and gay couples as second-class citizens," the lawyers wrote in the brief. "It dashes their hopes and dreams, and labels them and their children as inferior, based only on archaic stereotypes. Nothing about these families warrants unequal treatment by the law."

The arguments in the case are very similar to ones used in Massachusetts, where last year the Supreme Judicial Court ruled it unconstitutional to deny gay and lesbian citizens the right to marry.

The groups first filed suit on March 12, after the state Supreme Court ordered the city of San Francisco to stop granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Last month, the same court voided the approximately 4,000 same-sex marriages that had occurred in the city, ruling that city officials did not have authority to bypass state law.

Two of the couples in the lawsuit are recent additions; both had been married during San Francisco's monthlong same-sex wedding parade earlier this year. Longtime activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, who have been together 51 years and were the first couple to marry on Feb. 12, joined the lawsuit after last month's nullification of their marriage left them "hurt, angry, insulted and frustrated."

Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis of San Francisco also joined the lawsuit after their marriage was voided.

"Something the court's ruling could not take away from us was the fact that we have now tasted full equality, and we have now experienced what it feels like not be second-class citizens," Lewis told the PlanetOut Network. "That experience motivates us to transform our sadness into determination to win back our freedom to marry and ensure that we and all lesbian and gay couples have equal access to marriage."

The case will be heard in San Francisco Superior Court, and a judge is expected to set a timetable for the case next week. The final ruling from Superior Court in this case will most likely be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

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