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A California appeals court upheld the state’s ban on gay marriage last week, ruling that only the Legislature can alter the traditional definition of marriage to include same-sex unions.
Gay marriage advocates plan to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. In the meantime, the ruling marks a setback for the movement, which has recently suffered similar defeats in two other states – New York and Washington.
“This is a disappointing second round in what we’ve always known is a three-round fight,” said San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera.
However, opponents of the movement lauded the decision, citing the court’s judicial restraint.
“The really important issue here is that the court understood that marriage has a meaning, and that unless you redefine marriage, all the arguments the other side have made are meaningless,” said Alliance Defense Fund attorney Glen Lavy.
The battle over same-sex marriage in California dates back to 2004 when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered city officials to grant marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Later, opponents of gay marriage convinced the state Supreme Court to nullify the licenses.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer then ruled that California marriage laws were discriminatory and violated the civil rights of same-sex couples. The judge cited “the basic human right to marry a person of one’s choice.”
After Kramer’s ruling, the California Legislature passed a bill legalizing gay marriage. The bill was subsequently vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said only courts or voters could settle the issue.
This most recent ruling puts the issue back in the hands of the Legislature. According to the 1st District Court of Appeals, it is the Legislature that has the power to change the state’s traditional definition of marriage.
The state’s existing definition of marriage is limited to a union between a man and a woman. Same-sex couples in the state may file for a domestic partnership, which grants most of the legal rights of marriage.
Currently, Massachusetts is the only state that allows same-sex couples to legally wed, and Vermont and Connecticut are the only two states that allow same-sex couples to enter into a civil union.
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