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US: California Marriage Ruling a Victory for Human Rights

Historic Decision Confers Equal Right to Marriage to Same-Sex Couples

The California Supreme Court’s ruling today striking down state law that limits marriage to opposite-sex couples is a victory for equality that should set a national and international example, Human Rights Watch said today.

“California’s highest court has affirmed that equality does not come with exceptions,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “This historic decision should push the US government to stop obstructing equal treatment of relationships and families.”

On May 15, by a vote of 4 to 3, the court overturned a 2000 ballot measure that had limited the definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman. The ballot measure presaged the issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex couples by the city and county of San Francisco in 2004. The court had ordered the city and county of San Francisco in 2004 to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, pending resolution of whether California’s restriction of marriage to different-sex couples violated the state’s constitution. The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, and the National Center of Lesbian Rights filed suit under the California constitution’s provisions guaranteeing equality, liberty, and privacy to all state residents.

Opponents of marriage equality in California have been collecting signatures for a further ballot measure this year, which would amend the Constitution to enshrine a discriminatory definition of marriage as restricted to a man and a woman. State authorities will determine next month whether advocates have collected enough signatures to force the measure onto the ballot, which would also invalidate any marriages performed under the court’s decision.

“Human rights aren’t things to be revoked or repossessed,” said Long. “California’s voters, if it comes to that, will respect the principles behind this decision, and refuse to treat equality as transitory.”

In 2005 and again in 2007, the California legislature passed bills which would have ensured equal treatment under the law by allowing same-sex couples to marry in California. Both times, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bills. However, Schwarzenegger has stated he would oppose a discriminatory ballot measure this year.

Under the 1996 “Defense of Marriage Act,” the US government is barred from recognizing same-sex relationships. Thus the California decision will still have no effect on marriage rights under federal law.

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