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Court watch: California gay marriage ruling…Upholds SF licensing scheme, 4-3 decision in a favor of a “fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship”

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By Michelle Malkin  •  May 15, 2008 12:11 PM

A California Supreme Court decision on San Francisco’s gay marriage licenses is expected within the hour.

Gay marriage supporters are prepared to hold a “celebration of love.” Social conservatives are prepared to go to the ballot box:

More than four years after San Francisco defied state marriage laws by allowing nearly 4,000 same-sex couples to wed at City Hall, the state Supreme Court is set to decide today whether gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry in California.

But the decision, due at 10 a.m., may not be the last word. Conservative religious organizations have submitted more than 1.1 million signatures for an initiative that would amend the state Constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage. If at least 694,354 signatures are found to be valid, a tally that is due by mid-June, the measure would go on the November ballot and, if approved by voters, would override any court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.

Californians have already voted once, in 2000, to reaffirm the 1977 state law that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The 2000 initiative, Proposition 22, was not a constitutional amendment.

The marriage case is the most prominent and politically explosive dispute to come before the court in decades. The justices have largely managed to stay out of the public spotlight since 1986, when voters removed Chief Justice Rose Bird and two liberal colleagues who had joined her in overturning nearly all death sentences to come before the court.

The current court, with a 6-1 majority of Republican appointees, has a centrist record on social issues and has ruled in favor of gay-rights advocates in a number of cases, including three decisions in 2005 requiring equal treatment for same-sex parents in disputes over child support and custody. The justices seemed sharply divided at their hearing in the marriage case March 4.

Win or lose, supporters of same-sex marriage have scheduled a “celebration of love and family” at the San Francisco LGBT Center, 1800 Market St., at 5 p.m. today, with similar observances planned in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Luis Obispo and Palm Springs.

The political consequences, summed up:

“If California issues a decision legalizing same-sex marriage, it will reinvigorate the fight for same-sex marriage” nationally, said Jordan Lorence, an attorney with the conservative Alliance Defense Fund. “But if they affirm that marriage is for a man and a woman, then what has happened is that Massachusetts is leading a one-state parade.”

***

Update: Here’s the ruling.

To the ballot box we go.

More from SFGate:

Gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry in California, the state Supreme Court said today in a historic ruling that could be repudiated by the voters in November.

In a 4-3 decision, the justices said the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the “fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship.” The ruling is likely to flood county courthouses with applications from couples newly eligible to marry when it takes effect in 30 days.

But it could be overturned in November, when Californians are likely to vote on a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. Conservative religious organizations have submitted more than 1.1 million signatures on initiative petitions, and officials are working to determine if at least 694,354 of them are valid.

If the measure qualifies for the ballot and voters approve it, it will supersede today’s ruling. The initiative does not say whether it would apply retroactively to annul marriages performed before November, an omission that would wind up before the courts.

The legal case dates back to February 2004, when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the city clerk to start issuing marriage licenses to couples regardless of their gender, saying he doubted the constitutionality of the state marriage law.

The state’s high court ordered a halt a month later, after nearly 4,000 same-sex weddings had been performed at San Francisco City Hall. The court annulled the marriages in August 2004, ruling that Newsom lacked authority to defy the state law. But it did not rule on the validity of the law itself and said it would await proceedings in lower courts.

Some of the couples immediately sued in Superior Court and were joined by the city of San Francisco, which said it had a stake in ensuring equality for its residents. The case that ultimately reached the state Supreme Court consolidated four suits, one by the city and three by 23 same-sex couples in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

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