On Valentine’s Day last month, about a dozen gay and lesbian couples showed up at San Francisco City Hall. They wanted something they knew they couldn’t have: A marriage license.
The protest, organized by Marriage Equality USA, happens every year. And every year the couples are turned away.
Thom Watson from Daly City came with his partner.
“You’re really never fully prepared for what it’s going to feel like yet again to be turned down for something that you want so badly and that other people take for granted,” Watson said.
The right to get that legal document from a county clerk is what Tuesday’s U.S. Supreme Court hearing is all about: whether California’s Proposition 8 — a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman — violates equal protection under the law guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
In California’s June 2000 primary, 61 percent of the electorate voted “yes” on Proposition 22, a measure that amended state law to read, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized ” in the state. The state Supreme Court overturned the law in 2008 as discriminatory, opening the way for same-sex couples to get legally married in the state. About 18,000 gay and lesbian couples took advantage of the chance to tie the knot.
But the door that had been opened to same-sex couples slammed shut in November 2008, when voters passed Proposition 8. The measure, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, passed with 52 percent of the vote.
Gay-marriage advocates immediately filed challenges with the California Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case, and in May 2009, the court upheld Prop. 8, another blow against same-sex marriage.
The U.S. Supreme court has set dates for hearings on two cases concerning same-sex marriage. It will hear arguments on California’s Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage in the state, on March 26, beginning at 7:00 a.m. Pacific time.
It will hear a challenge to the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA the next day, on March 27, at the same time.
In the Proposition 8 hearing, Hollingsworth v. Perry, the court is asking parties to argue whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the State of California from defining marriage as the· union of a man and a woman.
It’s also asking them to present arguments on whether the people defending Proposition 8 — its sponsors — have legal standing. Normally state government officials would defend a state law that is challenged in federal court, but in this case California’s governor Jerry Brown opposes the law.
DOMA prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage for any purpose under federal laws, such as providing benefits like healthcare. In United States v. Windsor, the court is asking the parties to present arguments about whether this violates the Fifth Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law.