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S.F. Defends Same-Sex Marriages

The city prepares a brief urging the state Supreme Court to let legal challenges run their course rather than intervene now.

March 05, 2004|Maura Dolan | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — City officials, arguing that marriages of same-sex couples have caused no harm, will urge the California Supreme Court today to postpone hearing legal challenges to the weddings.

No emergency exists that would warrant the intervention of the state's highest court, attorneys for the city plan to argue, according to a draft of their legal brief that was provided to news organizations Thursday. The city is responding to petitions from state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer and from two conservative organizations that have asked the high court to immediately intervene to stop the same-sex weddings and decide whether the more than 3,800 licenses issued so far are valid.

"No riots have taken place," City Atty. Dennis Hererra wrote in the brief, which will be filed with the court today. "Not a single opposite-sex couple has faltered in their vows. Only marriage, not anarchy, has broken out in San Francisco."

The state high court is expected to address the petitions and the city's response next week.

Lockyer and the opponents of gay marriage argue that state law clearly limits marriage to "a man and a woman" and that San Francisco has no authority to depart from that law. Mayor Gavin Newsom and gay rights groups argue that the state law violates provisions in the California Constitution that forbid discrimination.

Although foes of gay marriage want the high court to intervene quickly, San Francisco and gay rights groups want the case to be heard first in lower courts. While the cases are being heard, the marriages should continue, the city argues.

Lawyers fighting for same-sex marriage believe that their side benefits strategically the longer gays are permitted to marry here.

As time passes, courts and the public will get used to the idea and conclude that the practice is not threatening, the attorneys have said.

A Superior Court hearing on legal challenges to the marriages has been scheduled for March 29. If the state Supreme Court does not intervene, a final resolution to the legal challenges could take at least a year.

If the case is permitted to go to trial, San Francisco officials said in their brief, the city will present evidence that "relegating same-sex relationships to inferior, second-class status severely stigmatizes gay men, lesbians and their families."

Herrera said the city also would show that gay couples and their families had suffered economic harm as a result of the prohibition on same-sex marriage.

Foes have said they would present evidence that children fared best when reared by a mother and a father.

The California Supreme Court rarely intervenes in disputes that have not first been reviewed by trial and appellate courts. But the state high court has the final word on interpretation of state law, and Lockyer has urged the justices to take the case "in order to maintain the rule and uniformity of law."

San Francisco's lawyers argue in their brief that Newsom's decision to permit gay marriage has been "a textbook lesson in constitutionally principled civic courage."

"The duty to obey the Constitution extends to all branches and all level of governments at all times," Herrera said.

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