Continuing Monday, couples from as far as New York and Florida have come seeking married status before a court could declare the unions illegal and halt a five-day splurge of same-sex marriages. Demand for licenses was so great Sunday that couples were turned away because officials couldn’t fulfill all requests.
Tuesday, two conservative groups will argue before a state judge that Mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision last week to allow the city to issue marriage licenses to gay couples violates a state law restricting marriage to a man and a woman. Newsom’s move, which came as the Massachusetts Legislature failed to agree on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, drew support from across the nation.
Gay men and lesbians in Richmond, Va.; Columbia, S.C.; and other cities tried unsuccessfully to obtain licenses as part of National Freedom to Marry Day, held every Feb. 12 since 1998.
A 1974 California law confines marriage to unions between men and women. Proposition 22, passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2000, prohibits the state from recognizing same-sex marriages from other states. No other state permits same-sex marriages except Massachusetts, whose highest court ordered that gays be allowed to marry by May 17. If other states refuse to recognize the marriages, the issue could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Liberty Counsel, a conservative law firm in Orlando, is challenging Newsom on behalf of the Campaign for California Families. Alliance Defense Fund, a group instrumental in Proposition 22’s passage, also sought an injunction.
Legal scholars expect the state law to be affirmed. “State law is clear that marriage has to be between opposite-sex couples,” says Erwin Chemerinsky, a University of Southern California law professor.
Advocates say bans on same-sex marriages violate the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against gay men and lesbians.