Lesbian and gay couples in California and nationwide are celebrating the state Supreme Court’s historic 4-3 decision yesterday to overturn the same-sex marriage ban. In as soon as 30 days, gay couples throughout the state will finally be able to publicly and legally declare their love and commitment to each other, just as straight couples always have.
But in addition to the social and political impact of this landmark decision, there is a significant legal impact as well. In making it clear that gay couples cannot be legally discriminated against, the court has established that sexual orientation is a “suspect classification” under the California Constitution. This means that any state laws or policies that discriminate based on sexual orientation are worthy of the same level of judicial scrutiny – the strictest level – as race and gender. This is a monumental distinction – no other state’s highest court has ever before come to this conclusion.
Other highlights of the 121-page majority decision include:
- The decision explains that there is no reason to discriminate against same-sex couples, because “the limitation clearly is not necessary to preserve the rights and benefits of marriage currently enjoyed by opposite-sex couples.” In other words, no one is harmed by gay couples being married. The decision even quotes Chief Judge Kaye’s dissent in the New York Court of Appeals marriage decision: “There are enough marriage licenses to go around for everyone.”
- The court says that assigning different terms for the relationships of opposite-sex and same-sex couples (“marriage” vs. “domestic partnership”) makes gay couples seem like second-class citizens, and that if the state doesn’t want to call it “marriage” for gay couples, they can’t call it “marriage” for straight couples, either.
- The decision explains that the historical definition of marriage is not a valid reason to continue to discriminate against gay couples who, like interracial couples, were not originally included in the traditional definition of marriage.
- The decision debunks one of the most common arguments against gay marriage: that unlike opposite-sex marriage, its primary focus isn’t raising children. This was one of the main reasons that the
high court gave for ruling against same-sex marriage. But the New York court says not only is it flawed to say that the primary purpose of marriage is to raise children (there are many childless married couples), but also, gay couples are just as capable of being loving families as their straight counterparts. California