Same-sex couples in California rushed to city and county offices to get marriage licenses after a federal appeals court lifted a hold on the weddings following a June 26 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
The one-sentence order by the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco drew a challenge from gay-marriage opponents, who said the appeals court acted prematurely. Justice Anthony Kennedy today rejected the challenge, letting marriages continue.
The first same-sex couple to be married in San Francisco City Hall since 2008 was Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, both plaintiffs in the court case against California’s Proposition 8. California Attorney General Kamala Harris performed the ceremony on a balcony overlooking the city hall rotunda.
“I now declare you spouses for life,” Harris concluded, to an outburst of cheers and applause.
With a 5-4 procedural ruling, the Supreme Court reinstated a judge’s order allowing gay marriages by concluding that the sponsors of Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that banned gay marriage, lacked legal standing to appeal a trial judge’s order. California officials until now enforced Proposition 8, refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses even while opposing the ballot initiative in court.
Twelve other states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, six of them in the past year.
The Supreme Court also struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that denied benefits to same-sex couples legally married in states that allowed it. The court stopped short of declaring a constitutional right for gays to marry, or even ruling directly on California’s voter-approved ban, as the justices considered the issue for the first time.
The decisions sustained the momentum that has grown behind same-sex marriage over the past decade. A Bloomberg National Poll released this month found that 52 percent of adults supported legalization, with 41 percent opposed. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
There were more than 130,000 married, gay couples in the U.S., according to estimates from the 2010 Census.
After the appeals court order, California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, directed county clerks in the state’s 58 counties to immediately begin issuing marriages licenses to same-sex couples.
The Proposition 8 sponsors said the appeals court should have waited until the Supreme Court issued a certified copy of the judgment in the case -- something the high court typically doesn’t do until 25 days after its opinion is released. The 25-day period is designed to give the losing side time to seek rehearing.
The appeals court “was without jurisdiction to issue its order purporting to dissolve its stay,” the sponsors, led by former state Senator Dennis Hollingsworth, argued in papers filed with the Supreme Court.
Kennedy, who handles emergency matters from the San Francisco-based appeals court, made no comment in rejecting the request from the Proposition 8 sponsors to halt the weddings.
The appeals court decision lifting the ban was condemned by supporters of Proposition 8.
“This outrageous act tops off a chronic pattern of lawlessness, throughout this case, by judges and politicians hell-bent on thwarting the vote of the people to redefine marriage by any means, even outright corruption,” Andy Pugno, general counsel for the ProtectMarriage.com Coalition, said in a statement.
“Homosexual marriage is not happening because the people changed their mind,” Pugno said. “It isn’t happening because the appellate courts declared a new constitutional right. It’s happening because enemies of the people have abused their power to manipulate the system and render the people voiceless.”
Perry and Stier might have been beaten to their vows by another same-sex couple who received their marriage license from the Los Angeles County clerk’s office at 4:07 p.m. on June 28, spokeswoman Regina Ip said.
In San Francisco, Bobby Meadows, 40, and Craig Stein, 39, married each other on the balcony overlooking the City Hall rotunda. Meadows wore shorts and held a small bouquet of yellow, red and blue flowers. Stein wore jeans. The deputy marriage commissioner who presided over the ceremony hugged each as he handed them their marriage certificate.
“It’s amazing,” Meadows said in an interview. “I grew up never expecting to be able to do this in my lifetime, to announce the love for the man that I love. It’s overwhelming. It’s awesome.”
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said City Hall would be open yesterday and today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
More than 18,000 same-sex couples got marriage licenses in California in the five months between a state Supreme Court ruling that gay marriages were legal and the 2008 passage of Proposition 8, which effectively overturned that decision.
The appeals court said in February 2012 that Proposition 8 violated the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by stripping same-sex couples of a right they once had -- and that heterosexual couples would continue to possess.
The appeals court decision upheld a San Francisco federal judge’s 2010 ruling that Proposition 8 violated equal protection rights of gay and lesbian couples, and put the ruling on hold until the case had been appealed and argued to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case is Perry v. Brown, 10-16696, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco). The Supreme Court case is Hollingsworth v. Perry, 12-144.
To contact the reporters on this story: Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.org; Alison Vekshin in San Francisco at email@example.com; Michael B. Marois in Sacramento at firstname.lastname@example.org