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Taking Sides on Same-Sex Marriage

Political, religious and civil rights groups file briefs as the legal fight over gay unions builds.

January 11, 2006|Lee Romney | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — In a preview of California's looming court battle over same-sex marriage, scores of religious, civil rights and conservative groups filed briefs on both sides of the issue.

Filing in support of the right of gays and lesbians to marry was a broad coalition of more than 250 organizations -- including the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, women's groups and Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist leaders.

More than two dozen Asian and Pacific Islander groups also signed on to a brief that compared restrictions on gay unions to laws that once banned interracial marriage. The briefs were filed Monday.

"As an Asian American whose ancestors were denied equal rights and protections under California law, I recognize the profound harm caused by denying lesbian and gay people the ability to protect their families through marriage," Victor Hwang, an attorney with Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, wrote in a brief.

The case challenging the constitutionality of existing state law restricting marriage to heterosexuals is before the state Court of Appeal, which is expected to hear arguments this spring. The California Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case by late this year or next year.

California will become the most important state in the country to decide the issue in the courts.

Legislation legalizing same-sex marriage is also expected to be reintroduced soon (the governor vetoed one such bill last year), and conservatives are pushing for a constitutional amendment that would ban such unions and preempt actions by the courts and Legislature.

Plaintiffs challenging existing law -- among them a dozen same-sex couples and the city and county of San Francisco -- won their case in San Francisco Superior Court last year. The state attorney general appealed, along with conservative Christian groups who believe that same-sex marriage is unnatural and unhealthy for children raised in the unions.

Attorneys for the same-sex couples applauded the broad show of support evidenced by the amicus briefs as "inspiring."

"It tells me we've passed some kind of turning point of public understanding -- that this is a civil rights issue that matters," said Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel for the Western regional office of the Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund.

State Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer has argued that domestic partner benefits provide adequate protections and rights to gays and lesbians.

His office did not coordinate any support from those filing amicus briefs.

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