By Agence France-Presse
Published: May 26, 2009
The latest twist in California’s gay marriage debate will be revealed on Tuesday when the US state’s highest court issues its ruling on a bid to overturn a ban on same-sex couples tying the knot.
California’s Supreme Court is to release its opinion at 10:00 am (1700 GMT), with justices predicted to uphold the results of a November referendum that redefined marriage in the state as being unions between men and women only.
Legal analysts say Tuesday’s ruling is unlikely to be retroactive however, and so will not affect the status of 18,000 same-sex couples who married in California last year before the referendum.
Tuesday’s ruling comes at a time when several other US states have introduced laws allowing same-sex marriage.
Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Iowa have all extended full marriage rights to gay couples, while New Hampshire and New York have edged closer to adopting such a law.
California’s Supreme Court last May voted 4-3 to legalize same-sex marriage, sparking jubilation amongst gays in the most populous US state and sending thousands rushing to marry.
However the subject was forced back onto the agenda by religious and social conservative groups, who gathered enough support for the issue to be put before voters at November 4 polls. It passed by 52.5 to 47.5 percent.
Rights activists swiftly challenged the legality of the referendum.
In March, civil rights lawyers argued before the court that the referendum violated California’s constitution and that minority rights should not be vulnerable to a simple majority vote.
Advocates of same-sex marriage urged the court to strike down the results of the referendum, known as Proposition 8.
“Prop. 8 changes the basic nature of our government from one in which the majority protects the rights of minorities,” said Shannon Minter, lead counsel for those seeking to overturn the measure.
“It takes away the right to be treated with equal dignity and respect … A simple majority cannot be allowed to take any rights away from a historically protected minority.”
But some members of the seven-judge panel strongly indicated they were leaning toward rejecting the requests to invalidate the referendum results.
Justice Joyce Kennard, who voted with the majority in last year’s 4-3 ruling that legalized gay marriage, repeatedly made it clear she disagreed that Proposition 8 was an illegal revision of the state constitution.
Instead, she focused on voters’ approval of the proposition, saying the court could not “willy-nilly disregard the will of the people to change the state constitution as they have in the past.”
Opponents of gay marriage have expressed confidence that the court will rule in their favor on Tuesday.
“The wait is finally over and we’re confident that the right of the people to protect traditional marriage in the state constitution will ultimately prevail,” said Andrew Pugno, general counsel for ProtectMarriage.com.
However supporters of gay marriage have indicated they will seek to force another referendum on the issue if the court decision goes against them.
“We hope they rule the right way, but we are prepared to win marriage back at the ballot box,” said Marc Solomon, director of Equality California, a prominent gay rights group.