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Let the bells ring

Other states may not be holding their peace, but California should proceed with same-sex weddings.

June 04, 2008

Same-sex marriage in California will undoubtedly make life more complicated for many other states. That's their problem, not California's, where the state Supreme Court should let the marriages go ahead this month as planned. Gays and lesbians have waited plenty long for their rights to be recognized, and those rights should not be held hostage to the convenience of attorneys general across the nation.

Unlike in Massachusetts, the only state where same-sex weddings are officially performed now, couples need not live in California to be married here. The California Supreme Court's decision clearing the way for such marriages is expected to draw thousands of couples from other states, who will clamor on their return home to have their married status accepted. The attorneys general of 10 states have joined with this state's gay-marriage opponents, asking the court in a letter to delay the weddings until after the November election because voters might approve a constitutional amendment to ban the marriages and thus make the whole matter moot.

"News media in each of our states report on not a few resident same-sex couples who ... are seriously contemplating going to California to marry," the letter says. "We reasonably believe an inevitable result of such 'marriage tourism' will be a steep increase in litigation of the recognition issue in our courts."

California wasn't in the vanguard of recognizing the marriage rights of homosexuals, but given this state's size and prominence, the court decision last month -- that a voter-approved ban on the marriages was unconstitutional -- cracked the issue open in a way that makes it impossible to stuff neatly away, out of sight. For starters, the ruling is likely to lead to a challenge of the Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996, which defines marriage for federal purposes as occurring only between men and women and empowers states not to accept same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, even though the "full faith and credit clause" of the U.S. Constitution requires states to legally recognize one another's actions and records.

No matter what happens in November, gays and lesbians have the right to receive marriage licenses in California beginning June 17. Certainly, life would be tidier for other states and opponents of same-sex marriage if the weddings were put on hold. But the enforcement of constitutionally guaranteed rights is usually messy; remember the first months of school desegregation? With the state high court having ruled that there are no legal grounds for denying gays and lesbians the right to marry, there also are no grounds for delay. Temporary denial is still denial.

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