Chris Stovall: Backgrounder on the California Marriage Cases

By Chris Stovall, ADF Attorney
ADF Alliance Alert

The origin of the California Marriage Cases extends all the way back to February 2004, when Gavin Newsome, mayor of San Francisco, authorized county clerks to begin issuing “marriage” licenses to same-sex couples. ADF and others immediately filed lawsuits to prevent the clerks from continuing to issue licenses to same-sex couples. The ADF case, Lewis v. Alfaro, was heard by the California Supreme Court along with the others in May 2004, and was decided in August 2004, under the title Lockyer v. San Francisco. ADF attorney Jordan Lorence argued before the California Supreme Court, challenging Mayor Newsome’s unlawful actions. The Supreme Court agreed with ADF’s position and concluded that the government officials had exceeded their authority. The Court ordered the government officials to comply with the laws defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, stated that they must continue to comply with those laws unless they are first declared to be unconstitutional by a court, and declared the San Francisco same-sex “marriages” void from the beginning.

In ruling on the validity of the same-sex “marriage” licenses granted by San Francisco, California’s high court reserved judgment as to the constitutionality of California statutory law defining marriage as only the union of one man and one woman. Indeed, the high court invited the filing of new lawsuits raising that issue so that there would be a proper procedural vehicle for it to take up and rule on that issue. By late 2004, several such lawsuits had been filed contending that the California marriage laws violated the rights of same-sex couples under the California Constitution. Other lawsuits had been filed to prevent the unlawful issuance of future “marriage” licenses to same-sex couples. In one of those lawsuits, Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund v. San Francisco, ADF represented the organization formed by the proponents of California’s citizen initiative stating that only the union of one man and one woman would be valid or recognized as marriage in California, Proposition 22 (which passed by more than 61% of the vote in 2000), to defend the constitutionality of the initiative.

The California judicial system coordinated all of these cases into one massive lawsuit, called the Marriage Cases, which was heard by San Francisco Judge Richard A. Kramer. Amazingly, Judge Kramer found there was no rational basis for California’s existing legal structure of limiting marriage to opposite-sex unions, and also found the marriage laws impermissibly discriminatory both on the basis of gender and in restricting the exercise of a “fundamental right” to “marry” the person of one’s choosing.

ADF and other participants in that case promptly appealed Judge Kramer’s decision to the California Court of Appeal. Thankfully, in October 2006, the Court of Appeal reversed, holding that marriage inherently means the union of one man and one woman and that any change to this longstanding definition must come from through the legislative process, not from judges. The Court of Appeal rejected the trial court finding that the marriage laws discriminate against a suspect class or regarding a fundamental right, and found that the rational bases of preserving the commonly accepted meaning of marriage and of following the will of the voters clearly expressed in Proposition 22 supported the marriage laws in their current form. Ironically, despite that last point, the Court of Appeal found that the Proposition 22 defense organization represented by ADF did not have standing to participate in the lawsuit!

With tomorrow’s oral arguments at the California Supreme Court, ADF once again appears before that high court to defend marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and to stand up for the will of the people of California so clearly expressed in the vote on Proposition 22 less than 8 years ago. ADF attorney Glen Lavy (currently pictured at the top of the ADF Alliance Alert) will argue for the constitutionality of Proposition 22 and California’s other opposite-sex marriage laws. The Alliance Alert will blog the oral arguments live as they transpire, with frequent updates on the course of the arguments and the interactions between the justices and the attorneys.


More information, including court filings, from California’s marriage litigation is available on ADF’s Doma Watch site.