Friday, May 16, 2008

A Ruling Californians Can Love

A ruling Californians can love

Amid the intellectual arguments over gay marriage, real couples have waited decades to finally be treated with dignity.

By Gavin Newsom
May 16, 2008

CALIFORNIA HAS ALWAYS been a place where traditional class, race and gender barriers have been pushed aside by a spirit of equality and opportunity that says to all -- no matter who you are, no matter where you come from -- "It can be done."

In that spirit, yet one more barrier gave way when

the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that all Californians, regardless of sexual orientation, have the right to marry.

The court's ruling affirms the very best of what California represents: our long-standing commitment to equality and justice.

It was 60 years ago that the state Supreme Court ruled in Perez vs. Sharp that the ban on interracial marriage was unconstitutional -- 19 years before the U.S. Supreme Court would come to the same conclusion in Loving vs. Virginia. So in February 2004, when I ordered San Francisco's county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, it was with full recognition that as goes California, so goes the nation.

This is a historic moment for California and our country. We have taken an irrevocable step toward resolving one of the most important civil rights issues of our generation.

But the road ahead will be difficult. The same groups that sponsored Proposition 22, the ballot measure the court just overturned, are close to placing a measure on the November ballot that would write discrimination against gays and lesbians into our state Constitution. This effort would not only nullify Thursday's ruling, it could overturn existing laws granting the most basic rights to same-sex couples.

It is one thing to have an intellectual discussion about marriage equality. It is quite another to sit down with a loving couple of nearly 50 years and try to explain to them why they are being discriminated against by a government they help fund with their tax dollars.

When you sit down and learn a little about Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin -- two women now in their 80s who have been together as a committed couple since the early 1950s -- you realize there are no intellectual arguments against marriage equality that survive one second in the real world. And there are no more rationales for delaying the fight for equality.

Phyllis and Del were the first to take wedding vows in San Francisco City Hall in 2004 -- vows that were invalidated by the state Supreme Court months later. Which is why it is so important that the court reject any request to delay implementation of Thursday's ruling until after the November election. This loving couple has been waiting decades for the same rights that straight couples enjoy. They have waited long enough.

In its correct and courageous move, the California Supreme Court affirmed an important principle. But it did so much more than that. It affirmed that the bond between these two people is as strong and loving and secure as any other marriage in this city, state or nation.

If they agree, I would like to officiate at another marriage for Phyllis and Del as soon as possible. And when I do, it will be much more than a legal principle we celebrate. It will be the life-affirming love between two fellow Californians.

We are no longer debating the principle of marriage equality in California. We are ready to put that principle into practice. I hope to see many more same-sex couples throughout the state married in the weeks and months ahead.

Come November we will, in all likelihood, have to defend these new marriages at the ballot box. I hope that before anyone makes up their mind on the issue of same-sex marriage, they will take a few minutes to meet some of the many, many people who are finally enjoying the rights the rest of us enjoy.

Like Phyllis and Del, who will finally be able to say "I do."

Anyone who meets these two wonderful women, or the thousands of couples soon to follow in their footsteps, surely can only reach the conclusion that we can't allow a wrongheaded ballot measure to take these marriages away.

Gavin Newsom is the mayor of San Francisco.