Same-sex couples celebrated from San Diego to Sacramento on May 15, when the California Supreme Court announced its 4-3 decision to recognize same-sex marriage. As gay and lesbian couples hugged each other in the streets, the Court met with an outpouring of undeserved criticism from conservative and religious organizations. Despite this sentiment, Californias decision is a just one, upholding constitutional rights and creating equality throughout the state.
The California Supreme Court cited both the constitutional right to marry and the right to equal protection under the law as reasons for expanding the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. Although California civil unions previously provided same-sex couples with similar legal benefits to marriage, using different terminology to distinguish between same and different-sex couples clearly violated equal protection laws. We applaud the Court for recognizing this violation, and for choosing to address it.
Some criticize the Court for overruling Californias ban on gay marriage when voters had passed a state-wide initiative upholding it in 2000. However, such arguments overlook the Courts duty to intervene on behalf of the minority when their rights are at stake. The Court accurately viewed the 2000 initiativewhich defined marriage as solely between a man and a womanas a violation of the rights of gay and lesbian couples. Therefore, the Court had no choice but to discount majority sentiment in order to rectify the situation.
While some religious organizations voiced outrage following the announcement, the Courts decision in no way infringes on private congregations, since they remain free to perform and recognize only those unions they deem legitimate. The public sphere cannot and should not base its marriage legislation on the concerns of specific religious congregations, so long as legislation does not require these faiths to act against their principles. Since any church, temple or mosque can continue to marry only a man and a woman without breaking the law, religious objections should hold little weight.
Ultimately, this ruling publicly places same-sex couples on equal ground as heterosexual spouses, an action that actively combats homophobia and protects civil rights. Using the same wordmarriageto describe both types of union de-emphasizes differences between gay and straight individuals, and may lead to decreased discrimination in the future. Such public action is necessary in light of hate crimes and derogatory displays, and will hopefully lead to a more open and accepting environment for gay and lesbian individuals in the future.
California is the second state to allow gay marriage, after Massachusetts. We hope that the remaining 48 states will quickly follow their lead, promoting equality across the country.