SAN FRANCISCO (USA Today) - News that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear challenges to California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage dashed hopes of couples statewide who had thought wedding bells might be ring as early as next week.
"I'm both devastated and puzzled," said the Rev. Roland Stringfellow, pastor at Oakland's First Congregational Church."We all were living with such anticipation."
The Supreme Court could have declined to grant review of the federal constitutional challenge to Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that eliminated marriage rights for same-sex partners in California. If it had done so, previous appeals court rulings would have stood and same-sex couples would have been able to marry in the state within a few days.
Stringfellow and his partner, Jerry Peterson, thought the court wouldn't take the case. "The more conservative justices believe in states' rights and this is clearly a states' rights issue," said Stringfellow, 44. He and Peterson, 56, have been together for three years. They were married in a religious service at their church in Fort Wayne, Ind., on July 30, 2010, and since have moved to California.
Many hold out hope the court will rule in favor of the weddings. "The federal challenge to Proposition 8 represents one of the most significant civil rights cases to be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court in decades, and I'm confident that the high court will reach a decision that reaffirms our Constitution's promise of equal protection under the law," said San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, whose office has been involved in the fight for gay marriage for nine years.
Others look forward to a national ruling on the issue. "What we're hoping for is a Supreme Court decision that concludes this issue belongs to the states to decide for themselves whether to experiment with same-sex marriage, as opposed to having it imposed by the courts," said Andy Pugno, general counsel for ProtectMarriage.com, which has been working against same-sex marriage in California since 1998.
Groups in favor of gay marriage were equally hopeful. "We are pleased that the court has agreed to decide once and for all whether these blatantly discriminatory marriage bans are permitted under our Constitution," said Ilona Turner, legal director of the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco. "These laws that unconstitutionally restrict access to marriage based solely on gender must be struck down."
Same-sex marriage in California has a complicated history. In January 2000, the state first allowed domestic partnerships for gay couples, though the law only gave couples limited rights. On March 7 of the same year, 61% of state voters approved Proposition 22, banning same-sex marriage.
In 2001, then-governor Gray Davis signed a bill expanding domestic partnership rights. On Sept. 19, 2003, he signed a bill giving registered domestic partners most of the legal rights of married couples.
On Feb. 12, 2004, just in time for Valentine's Day, then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, making San Francisco the first jurisdiction in the nation to do so. On March 22, the California Supreme Court ordered the city to stop, saying it did not have the right to overrule state law. On Aug. 12, the court voided the almost 4,000 licenses that had been issued.
In May 2008, the state Supreme court struck down the Proposition 22 ban on same-sex marriage, saying that the state constitution protected a fundamental right for all couples to marry. In June, same-sex couples across the state began to marry. Then on Nov. 4 of that year 52% of California voters approved Proposition 8, again banning gay marriage.
The approximately 18,000 couples who married before the law went into effect remain legally married within the state, though without federal benefits because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
On Aug. 4, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, striking down Proposition 8. On appeal the issue was sent to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Friday announced it would take the case.
Stringfellow and Peterson say they won't travel to any of the nine other states where they could make their marriage legal. "We want our legal marriage to be here, in the state we live in." The wait will be many more months. The case is expected to be argued early next year, and will likely be decided before the end of June 2013.
That's fine by Stringfellow. "In the eyes of God we're already married," he said.
Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY