FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | May 25, 2004
California Supreme Court Ponders Narrow Legal Issue in Deciding Fate of 4,037 Marriage Licenses Issued To Same-Sex Couples
Challenge to Constitutionality of Marriage Laws To Be Addressed at Later Date
(San Francisco, CA, May 25, 2004) — The California Supreme Court held oral argument today in a case in which California Attorney General Bill Lockyer is seeking to invalidate the marriages of the 4,037 same-sex couples who obtained marriage licenses in San Francisco earlier this year, when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom directed the San Francisco County Clerk to stop discriminating against lesbians and gay men in the issuance of licenses. Although the Court did not allow any same-sex couples or Equality California to participate in the lawsuit, several members of the Court today raised serious concerns about ruling on the validity of the marriages without permitting the married couples to be heard.
"We are anguished that the court may invalidate our marriage without allowing us even to be heard in the case," said Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, the first same-sex couple to be married in San Francisco. "We are eighty-three and seventy-nine years old, respectively, and we have been together more than fifty years. We do not deserve the indignity of finally being able to marry, only to have this precious right stripped away from us without even a semblance of due process."
"I am encouraged by the thoughtful and engaged manner in which the Court addressed this issue," said Kate Kendell, Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which has filed a lawsuit challenging the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriages on behalf of ten same-sex couples, Equality California, and Our Family Coalition. "The court seemed to understand the devastating impact that invalidating these marriages would have on the couples involved. How the court will ultimately rule on this issue, however, remains to be seen."
"To have the fate of the marriages of over 4,000 couples being determined without hearing from any of them would be a travesty," said Geoffrey Kors, Executive Director of Equality California, the statewide advocacy group for LGBT people which, along with the couples, was denied its request to participate in this hearing. "However, regardless of what the Court decides regarding San Francisco's decision to issue marriage licenses in a non-discriminatory way, it will not lessen the impact of Mayor Newsom's actions on public opinion nor the progress we are making legislatively or legally here in California."
Just last month, California became the first state in the Nation to have a legislative body vote to support legislation allowing same-sex couples to obtain government issued marriage licenses when the California Assembly Judiciary Committee voted 8-3 in favor of the California Marriage License Non-Discrimination Act. This legislation, by Assemblyman Mark Leno (D - San Francisco) is sponsored by Equality California and supported by a coalition of organizations.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.
EQCA: Founded in 1998, Equality California is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots-based, statewide advocacy organization whose mission is to ensure the dignity, safety, equality and civil rights of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Californians. Equality California is one of the largest and fastest growing statewide LGBT organizations in the country. We can be contacted through our website at www.eqca.org.