California ruling prompts challenge, gay nuptial plans

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - As gay and lesbian couples made plans to marry, activists opposed to the California Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage said on Friday they would escalate efforts for a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexuals.

Afi Wikins (L) and her partner Quesha Landers smile after making their appointment for a marriage license at city hall in San Francisco, California, May 16, 2008. REUTERS/Kimberly White

An amendment to the state constitution would override Thursday’s decision, which superseded state laws from 1977 and 2000 that defined marriage as a union between a man and woman.

Californians could vote in November on an amendment cementing that definition in the state constitution.

“It’s expected that certification for the ballot will occur in early June,” said Randy Thomasson, head of Campaign for Children and Families. “The ruling should be stayed in deference to the people who have demanded the right to decide this issue on the ballot.”

Thomasson expects a backlash against the court’s decision because it is at odds with the traditional definition of marriage, approved by voters in a 2000 statewide referendum.

“People know deep in their hearts it is only for a man and woman,” Thomasson said.

Gay rights advocates said they oppose a constitutional amendment but expected a ballot battle even as the dispute over gay marriage worked its way through California’s courts. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom forced the issue in early 2004 by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“One thing about some of the groups that oppose equal rights for gay people: they tend to keep at it. They do their darndest to make sure that discrimination remains,” said Jenny Pizer, a lawyer at Lambda Legal, a gay rights legal group.

Pizer predicted that even those uneasy with same-sex marriage would oppose amending the state constitution, noting that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken that stance.


Both Pizer and Thomasson said they expect groups from outside California to play a major role in the anticipated political battle over a constitutional amendment.

Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, said the California decision had injected a sense of urgency into the debate over gay marriage -- especially whether the traditional definition of marriage needs to be defined at the national level.

“We must protect the sanctity of marriage by supporting an amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” he said in a statement.

Also on Friday, Pope Benedict in a speech restated the Roman Catholic Church’s view that only unions between a man and a woman are marriages, but he did not mention the California decision.

Amid protests and political preparations, gays and lesbians in California made plans to marry. They may already enter into domestic partnerships, which provide many but not all of the legal rights and responsibilities of marriage.

Susan Graham, 46, said she expects less trouble in a range of matters, from hospital visits to obtaining passes to private beaches, if she marries her partner of 10 years.

“Filling in the boxes is just so much easier,” she said.

Kate White, 36, said she already feels married to partner Maureen Futtner, 42, but they want it to be official. “We’ve had a commitment to each other for a long time,” White said. “But it’s very different to say, ‘I’m married. This is my wife. This is my spouse,’ and have it be legitimate.”

Futtner added: “This dignifies and validates it. There’s something about giving validity in the eyes of the public.”

Comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres said she too would seek that recognition by marrying partner and actress Portia de Rossi. “I am getting married,” DeGeneres, 50, told the audience during the taping of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” on Thursday to be broadcast Friday.

“It is something of course that we have wanted to do and we wanted to be legal,” said DeGeneres, who made television history in 1997 when her alter ego came out of the closet on her ABC sitcom “Ellen,” becoming the first openly gay lead character on U.S. prime-time network TV.

Additional reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago, Philip Pullella in Vatican City and Jill Serjeant in Los Angeles; Editing by Mary Milliken and Eric Walsh