HOUSTON—The majority of U.S. states have Defense of Marriage Acts, which define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. But across America, gay rights activists are challenging state bans on same-sex marriage, arguing that such laws violate equal-protection guarantees in state constitutions. These arguments first proved persuasive in Massachusetts in 2003, and they have since had success in other state courts.
The battle over gay marriage has been raging in California since the beginning of 2000, when the state first started registering domestic partners and affording same-sex couples the benefits of hospital visitation and health insurance coverage for the dependents of government employees covered by CalPERS, the state’s retirement system. While groundbreaking, the law was not nearly enough to satisfy gay rights activists hoping to win the right to marry. Here is timeline from 2000 to present on the fight for same sex marriage in California:
March 7, 2000: More than 61% of Californians vote "yes" to Proposition 22, a ballot measure declaring that marriage should remain reserved for couples of the opposite sex.
October 14, 2001: Gov. Gray Davis signs a bill that expands the rights of domestic partners to include the right to make medical decisions for a hospitalized partner, use of sick leave to care for an ill or incapacitated partner, and to relocate with a partner without losing unemployment benefits, among others.
September 19, 2003: Gov. Davis signs a bill that gives state-registered domestic partners many of the legal rights and obligations of married couples in matters involving children, money and property. While the law does not go so far as to recognize gay marriage, it does give a partner the right to financial support and child custody following the dissolution of a partnership, and a survivor the right to collect his or her partner’s government benefits in the event of death.
February 12, 2004: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom instructs city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the first action of its kind in the nation. Dozens of couples are married, as city offices stay open late to accommodate long lines.
March 3, 2004: The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles City Council pass resolutions opposing a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
March 11, 2004: The California Supreme Court unanimously orders San Francisco to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples and says it will rule on the legality of the city’s actions within the next few months.
August 12, 2004: The California Supreme Court rules unanimously that San Francisco's mayor overstepped his authority by issuing same-sex marriage licenses. By a 5 to 2 vote, the court also declares the roughly 4,000 marriages of gay and lesbian couples that had been sanctioned by the city "void from their inception and a legal nullity."
December 21, 2004: A San Francisco judge hears arguments on same-sex marriages. At the heart of the consolidated lawsuits, brought by the city of San Francisco and a dozen gay and lesbian couples, is the contention that current law defining marriage as "between a man and a woman" violates the state Constitution by denying homosexuals the "fundamental right" to marry the person of their choosing.
June 29, 2005: The California Supreme Court declines to hear a challenge to the state's domestic partners benefits law. Critics of the law thought such benefits would be prohibited by Proposition 22.
August 22, 2005: The California Supreme Court rules that children born to gay couples have two legally recognized parents; the first such ruling in the nation.
September 29, 2005: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoes a same-sex marriage bill after it passes the Senate and Assembly. Schwarzenegger says the bill would wrongly reverse Proposition 22, which declares that marriage is only between a man and a woman.
June 5, 2007: A measure to legalize marriage for gay couples easily passes the California Assembly after a respectful debate. As he did in 2005, Gov. Schwarzenegger is expected to veto the measure.
September 19, 2007:San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders abruptly reverses his public opposition to same-sex marriage. In an emotional statement, Sanders says he realizes that he cannot tell his daughter Lisa, who is gay, that her relationship with a partner is not as important as that of a straight couple.
October 12, 2007: Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoes a bill approved by state lawmakers that would legalize gay marriage. He says the courts need to rule on the legality of Proposition 22, the gay marriage ban passed by voters.
March 4, 2008: The California Supreme Court considers four lawsuits brought by same-sex couples after San Francisco issued marriage licenses in 2004. Three of the court's seven justices indicate they will uphold state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Ruling expected within 90 days.
May 15, 2008: The California Supreme Court rules that the state Constitution protects a fundamental "right to marry" that extends equally to same-sex couples. The three dissenting justices argue that it is up to the electorate or the Legislature to decide whether gays should marry.
June 2, 2008: More than one million signatures are submitted for a ballot measure that would amend the state Constitution to define marriage as a union "between a man and a woman" and undo the California Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriages.
June 16, 2008: County registrars and clerks in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Alameda, Sonoma and Yolo counties keep offices open to allow at least two dozen same-sex couples the distinction of being among the first to wed. Seven Southern California Roman Catholic bishops, including L.A. Cardinal Roger Mahony, publically reaffirm their opposition to same-sex marriage.
July 16, 2008: The California Supreme Court rejects arguments that Proposition 8, which if passed by voters would amend the state Constitution to ban gay marriage, is an illegal constitutional revision. Justices also reject the argument that voters had been misled when they signed petitions to put it on the ballot.
November 4, 2008: California passes Proposition 8 with about 52% of the vote.
November 19, 2008: The California Supreme Court votes 6 to 1 to review legal challenges to Proposition 8, but refuses to permit gay weddings to resume pending a final decision.
March 2, 2009: The California state Senate approves a resolution calling Proposition 8 an improper revision of the California Constitution because it was not approved by the Legislature.
March 5, 2009: The California Supreme Court strongly indicates it will rule that Proposition 8 validly abolished the right for gays to marry but will allow same-sex couples who wed before the November election to remain legally married.
May 26, 2009: The California Supreme Court upholds Proposition 8's ban on same-sex marriage but also rules that gay couples who wed before the election will continue to be married under state law. Gay rights activists say they may ask voters to repeal the marriage ban as early as next year, and opponents pledge to fight any such effort.
May 27, 2009: Opening a new front in California's gay marriage battle, prominent attorneys working for a project of the American Foundation for Equal Rights announce they will file suit in federal court. The suit calls for an injunction against Proposition 8 and the immediate reinstatement of marriage rights for same-sex couples.
October 14, 2009: A federal judge refuses to dismiss a constitutional challenge to Proposition 8, ruling the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage raised legal and factual issues that required a trial.
August 4, 2010: A federal judge in San Francisco rules that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry, striking down Proposition 8. U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker says Proposition 8, passed by voters in November 2008, violates the federal constitutional rights of gays and lesbians to marry the partners of their choice.
August 16, 2010: In a brief order, the 9th Circuit Court puts the legal battle over Proposition 8 on hold while it considers the constitutionality of the state's ban on same-sex marriage. The appeals court agrees to stay Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's order last week that would have barred the state from enforcing Proposition 8.
August 31, 2010: The Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal group in California, petitions the 3rd District Court of Appeal for an emergency order that would require Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown to defend California's gay marriage ban in court.
September 8, 2010: The California Supreme Court denies the petition from The Pacific Justice Institute seeking to force California Gov. Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Brown to participate in an appeal of the Proposition 8 case. The full court issues its decision with a simple two-sentence declaration.
The legal battle over gay marriage in California has been a lengthy one, and is not over yet. Arguments from both sides will be heard by the 9th Circuit Court on December 6, 2010, which could push a decision into next year. In the meantime, same-sex marriages will remain on hold.