SAN FRANCISCO — Gays and lesbians have a right to marry under the California Constitution, a state judge here ruled Monday, striking down state laws that limit marriage to "a man and a woman."
"No rational basis exists for limiting marriage in this state to opposite-sex partners," wrote San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer. "Same-sex marriage cannot be prohibited solely because California has always done so before."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday March 16, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 54 words Type of Material: Correction
Definition of marriage -- An article in Tuesday's Section A about a San Francisco Superior Court judge's ruling striking down state laws that limit marriage to a man and a woman said that a constitutional amendment on the subject was considered last year in Washington state. It was considered by Congress in Washington, D.C.
The ruling does not mean that gay couples in California can immediately wed. The decision will be stayed to allow an appeal, which opponents of gay marriage say they plan to file. The case is likely to end up before the California Supreme Court, which is not expected to rule until next year.
But both sides in the heated arguments over gay marriage predicted that the ruling would intensify a dispute that has roiled the nation since 2003, when the highest court in Massachusetts declared that gay couples had a right to marry under that state's Constitution.
"California has always been a harbinger," said Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "This decision -- for states committed to fairness and justice -- is a perfect road map for how to achieve that for gays and lesbians."
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a leading conservative on social issues, said the ruling strengthened the case for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would take away the authority of states to set their own rules on marriage.
"Today's lower court ruling in California, and other court rulings, further support the need for a constitutional amendment to protect marriage from activist judges for the good of families, children and society," he said.
In recent months, trial courts in New York, Oregon and Washington state have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage and one in New Jersey recently ruled against it. Those rulings have been appealed.
The Washington case has been heard by that state's high court, and a ruling could come soon. Lower court cases are pending in Maryland and Connecticut.
In California, the issue of gay marriage burst onto the public stage last year, when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom directed county officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
After four weeks of ceremonies for more than 4,000 couples, the California Supreme Court ruled that Newsom had exceeded his authority as mayor.
But the high court made clear it was not ruling on whether gay marriage should be allowed, and invited supporters of gay marriage to take the dispute to Superior Court.
San Francisco officials, along with gay rights organizations and more than a dozen same-sex couples, argued that the current state law, adopted in 1977, discriminated against gay men and lesbians.
State Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer defended the laws, as did several organizations that oppose gay marriage.
"Obviously, we're disappointed," Glen Lavy, attorney for one of those groups, the Alliance Defense Fund, based in Arizona, said of Monday's ruling. "But this is ... one decision in a long war."
Randy Thomasson, executive director of the Campaign for California Families, another group that fought to defend the current laws, said the ruling means "there's absolutely no value to marriage being between a man and a woman or a child having a mom and a dad."
Thomasson called the ruling "a sword through the heart of California voters." The decision would void Proposition 22, passed in 2000 by 61% of voters, which said California would not recognize gay marriages performed in other states.
Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for Lockyer, declined to comment, saying only that his office was "reviewing the decision."
In a television interview, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cast the court ruling as one of "many events" in a continuing legal battle over whether gays should be permitted to marry. He said the issue would be settled by the state Supreme Court -- and that he would stand by that ruling.
As for his own position, Schwarzenegger's answers have been contradictory. He said in the interview Monday that he supports domestic partnerships. But he also said: "I don't believe in gay marriage." He had said previously, "I don't care one way or the other."
Newsom offered no such ambiguity. "It's a good day in San Francisco," he declared at a news conference at City Hall, where he was surrounded by some of the same-sex partners who are plaintiffs in the court proceedings.
"We are hopeful that we can get through the appellate process and to the California Supreme Court as quickly as possible," Newsom said. "The reason: Lives are in the balance."
Standing near Newsom was Christopher Bradshaw, 25, of Marin, who recalled how he had experienced a mixture of "secrecy and fear" while growing up because of his mothers' unrecognized relationship.
"I always felt somewhat unsafe about revealing their relationship, and I didn't understand why," he said as he hugged one of his mothers, Jeanne Rizzo. "I knew they were very good together."