Last week, under orders from the state's highest court, California began allowing same-sex couples to wed. But it's still not over. A November ballot initiative, if passed, would shut the process down yet again.
How has the nation as a whole responded to the drama? A look at how the editorial pages of the largest U.S. newspapers covered the court's decision last month shows that reaction was decidedly ambivalent. Twelve of the 20 largest newspapers wrote editorials on the subject. Of those, seven opposed it, four favored it, and one (the St. Petersburg Times) offered a mixed reaction. Here are excerpts:
OPPOSING THE RULING
"The unfortunate and unnecessary impact of the California Supreme Court ruling might well have been to set back the cause of gay rights more broadly. ... In other words, pragmatic political compromise on the intensely controversial issue is not allowed in California. It's all or nothing, and recent political history leaves little doubt about what will follow."
Wall Street Journal
"Judges invent wedge issues. Always have. As with California's Supreme Court, many of the berobed judiciary take it as their solemn duty to do the people's thinking for them on the modern world's most difficult and divisive social issues. So it was with Roe v. Wade, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared 50 state legislatures irrelevant. The aftermath has been more than 30 years of the abortion wars."
New York Post
"Gay activists understandably are elated at the California Supreme Court's historic decision legalizing same-sex marriage in that state. But the ruling was yet another unwise exercise in judicial activism: judges imposing their personal vision of a proper social order on an unwilling electorate."
"The only thing they [same-sex couples] lacked was the right to be called 'married.' This, a slim majority of the California court ruled, was unacceptable, insinuating that the real, remarkable and well-deserved gains won by gay couples through the political process were entirely inadequate. They then engaged in an unnecessary bout of judicial micromanagement by redefining marriage through a novel reading of the state constitution."
"Thursday, the California Supreme Court said the state must allow same-sex marriage, a decision that was unsound in its reasoning and most likely counterproductive in its political impact."
Dallas Morning News
"If this reasoning prevails in other courts, civil unions -- a popular compromise between the status quo and full marriage rights -- won't stand. The California court action forces Americans to take a stand on either side of the divide. ... By leaping ahead of evolving social mores and removing the issue from democratic debate, the courts could be inadvertently setting up a backlash."
Cleveland Plain Dealer
"When it comes to an issue as sensitive and emotional as the definition of marriage -- one developed over millennia and across many cultures -- we do question the wisdom of resorting to instruments so blunt as courts or constitutions. That is especially true when public sentiment on such issues is clearly in flux."
FAVORING THE RULING
New York Times
"The California Supreme Court brought the United States a step closer to fulfilling its ideals of equality and justice with its momentous 4-to-3 ruling upholding the right of same-sex couples to marry."
Los Angeles Times
"When it acted in 1967, the court banished laws that forbade interracial marriage. ... In that same noble tradition, California's high court on Thursday ended the state's ban on marriages between couples of the same sex. Marriage, the court ruled, is 'one of the fundamental rights embodied in the California Constitution' and may not be sublimated to bigotry or habit.
"Public opinion has changed in this state since Proposition 22 prohibited same-sex marriage in 2000, and it continues to evolve toward acceptance of gay and lesbian rights. Thursday's ruling is another step in that march toward equality."
San Francisco Chronicle
"The underlying issue was never about issuing special rights or condoning the 'gay lifestyle' or undermining the institution of marriage. It was about whether all Californians enjoy what the chief justice described as 'a fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship.'
"Finally, they do."
"But the ruling is significant for another reason: It points out the fundamental flaw in domestic partnerships, civil unions, and other 'I Can't Believe It's Not Marriage' substitutes -- which, however well intended, still relegate same-sex couples to second-class status."