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10 years later, another Supreme wait

The U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Expectations are high as the wait continues for two decisions expected in June on marriage cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, just as they were 10 years ago when gay rights supporters awaited what amounted to landmark rulings in two other cases.

In 2003, two cases reshaped the landscape for gay rights: the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state sodomy laws throughout the country, and the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, which for the first time led to the legalization of marriage equality in a U.S. jurisdiction.

The two cases currently before the court — Hollingsworth v. Perry, which aims to strike down California’s Proposition 8, and United States v. Windsor, which is challenging the Defense of Marriage Act — are different in many respects from the cases 10 years ago. Lawrence was related to sodomy laws and Goodridge was a state lawsuit that resulted in a change only in Massachusetts. Still, they’re similar in terms of their potential significance.

The two attorneys who made arguments before the courts in the decades-old lawsuits — in the Goodridge case, Mary Bonauto, civil rights director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and, in the Lawrence case, Paul Smith, a partner at Jenner & Block — acknowledged the magnitude of the cases both then and now, but said it’s hard to compare the significance of the older ones to the newer ones.

Smith said we won’t know the significance of the DOMA and Prop 8 cases until the Supreme Court rules on them, but touted the Lawrence decision striking down sodomy bans across the country as significant in any event.

“It provided the foundation for all the progress that has been made on marriage and other forms of discrimination over the past 10 years,” Smith said. “It did that by establishing that our relationships are just as important and valuable as different-sex relationships and by saying that the government can’t use morality as a justification for interfering with individual choices about who to love and how. With those principles in place it’s very hard for anyone to come up with a legitimate and persuasive justification for discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

Similarly, Bonauto said “it’s not really easy” to compare the significance of the Goodridge case to the Perry and Windsor lawsuits, recalling the different cultural climate 10 years ago in which the Massachusetts case was argued.

“In 2003, these waters were largely uncharted,” Bonauto said. “There were zero marriage states, a civil union system in Vermont, and 36 states with discriminatory statutes and four states with amendments. But then, as now, we were right; right on the constitutional principles and the utter absence of legal justifications for this discrimination.”

Those court rulings — in particular the Goodridge decision because it was the first successful case for full marriage equality in the United States — paved the way for 11 more states to approve same-sex marriage over the course of 10 years, including the legalization of marriage equality in Minnesota just this week.

Just as observers are parsing statements from justices now in an attempt to determine what the court may rule on Prop 8 and DOMA, followers of the court cases a decade ago were also trying to predict the future based on what was said during oral arguments.

In Lawrence, Smith said moderate justices at the time — Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy and then-Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor — were “uncharacteristically quiet,” making it difficult to predict how the court would rule.

“But we took hope from the fact that they didn’t say anything negative,” Smith added. “We were relatively optimistic that the court would strike down the sodomy laws once the court decided to take the case.”

For Goodridge, Bonauto said the wait was different from now in two regards: first because same-sex marriage wasn’t legalized anywhere in the country at the time, and second because there was no set timeline for when the Massachusetts Supreme Court had to make a decision.

“We thought and hoped we were right on the timing,” Bonauto said. “There were a lot of nerves and uncertainty while we waited. The fact that we didn’t know when the decision would come — no clue at all — added to the nerves and fueled the rumor factory. In the end, the decision turned out to be beautifully written and world-changing.”

In the present, many observers believe that the Supreme Court will issue a decision that will strike down DOMA on its merits — either based on equal protection or federalism grounds — although issues of standing were examined.

For Prop 8, much attention has been given to justices’ interest in the standing of Prop 8 proponents to defend the measure in court. A determination that they lack standing would leave in place a lower court ruling and likely invalidate the ban on same-sex marriage in California.

The standing issues before the Supreme Court, as Bonauto noted, also means the wait for Goodrige was different because the Massachusetts Supreme Court couldn’t rule on this basis.

“There were no outs,” Bonauto said. “They had to decide whether denying marriage to gay couples violates the Constitution of the Commonwealth or not. And I was asked very specifically in oral arguments about Vermont civil unions and a remedy that would provide those protections, and I said, ‘That was not what the plaintiffs were seeking; they were seeking access to marriage itself.’”

Notably, the oral arguments in Lawrence v. Texas took place on March 26, 2003, which is exactly 10 years to the day that oral arguments took place in the Prop 8 case on March 26, 2013. A ruling was issued in the Lawrence case on June 26, 2003 just as a ruling is expected in the Prop 8 and DOMA cases in June 2013.

In the Goodridge case, oral arguments took place before the Massachusetts Supreme Court on March 3, 2003, but a decision wasn’t rendered until Nov. 18, 2003.

Mary Bonauto, gay news, Washington Blade

Mary Bonauto (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

It remains to be seen whether the wording of rulings from the Supreme Court will have the same power as the language that justices handed down a decade ago. The 4-3 ruling in the Goodridge case affirmed that same-sex couples had the right to marry with never before seen language.

“The question before us is whether, consistent with the Massachusetts Constitution, the Commonwealth may deny the protections, benefits, and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry,” the decision states. “We conclude that it may not. The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals.”

In the Lawrence case, the 6-3 opinion written by Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy determined that the framers intended language in the U.S. Constitution to be reinterpreted by later generations in accordance with their vision of liberty.

“They knew times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress,” Kennedy wrote “As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.”

Also unknown is how the public might react if the Supreme Court issues affirmative rulings for marriage equality in the Prop 8 and DOMA cases.

In 2003, the court ruling in Massachusetts — combined with then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision to issue marriage licenses to gay couples — sparked a national backlash that led in the next year to 11 states passing constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. Former President George W. Bush ran a successful re-election campaign in which he advocated for passage of a Federal Marriage Amendment.

But Bonauto was skeptical that the legalization of same-sex marriage led to the passage of state constitutional amendments and Bush’s re-election — saying the religious right wanted to enact the amendments anyway and analysis shows the marriage issue wasn’t as much a boon to Bush as it may seem on its face.

“By the time we had filed Goodridge, there were already 36 state statutes and four amendments,” Bonauto said. “So, for a lot of these states, they didn’t have anything else to do but to pass an amendment because they already had statutes barring marriage.  So I really view this as political opportunism both with elected officials and also the organized right-wing. It was trying to cut us off and change the facts on the ground, so that they could isolate this debate and isolate this issue in certain states.”

Given the growing acceptance of marriage equality — one widely noted recent poll shows it enjoys support from 58 percent of the American public, compared to 30 percent support in 2003 — the negative reaction to any pro-gay rulings will likely be more restrained.

In the event the Supreme Court in June renders similarly favorable decisions in support of rights for gay couples, Bonauto predicted some would speak out in opposition, but the reaction generally would be favorable.

“There are going to be people who are going to say things, and some of them have echo chambers and bully pulpits and their blogs,” Bonauto said. “I don’t think we should equate that to a backlash. I just think that is what public discourse is like in 2013. I really believe that the overwhelming majority of Americans are at a point where they accept and embrace the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.”



Proposition 8, Prop 8, DOMA, Defense of Marriage Act, Supreme Court, gay rights, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Activists held signs and a flag in front of the Supreme Court in hopes of a decision on the Proposition 8 and Defense of Marriage Act cases. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

On Tuesday the Supreme Court struck down two key anti-gay laws: a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act preventing the Federal Government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal, and California’s voter-approved Proposition 8, which ended same-sex marriage rights in that state.

In a 5-4 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan, writing the opinion striking down a key provision in DOMA in the case of Windsor v. the United States, calling the law a “deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment,” According to

“DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled ot recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty,” the decision reads.

The move could open the door to federal recognition of legally married same-sex couples who have wed in states where such nuptials are legal. Immigration rights experts hope the decision also means that American citizens will be able to sponsor their same-sex spouses for citizenship, something currently against the law.

The second gay marriage decision of the day struck down California’s Proposition 8 based on standing, vacating the 9th Circuit Court’s opinion, and upholding the U.S. District Court of California’s ruling, authored by Vaughn Walker.

“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” read the majority opinion in Hollingsworth v. Perry authored by Chief Justice John Roberts. “We decline to do so for the first time here.”

In the Hollingsworth opinion, Roberts was joined by Justices Scalia, Ginsberg, Breyer and Kagan.

Justices Scalia was joined by Justice Thomas in his dissent to the Windsor decision, with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito both writing his own dissent, agreeing with Thomas in part.

In his dissent in Windsor, Scalia questions the level of scrutiny the majority applied to the law, where Alito’s dissent revolves around the question of standing, according to legal experts.

This story is developing, come back to the Blade for more throughout the day.


HISTORIC: Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, Prop 8

Supreme Court, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Hollingsworth vs. Perry, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay marriage advocates rallying at the Supreme Court earlier this year during oral arguments for two major cases. The court struck down two anti-gay laws today, opening the door for expanded rights for same-sex couples in many jurisdictions. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a historic development, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down two decisions on Wednesday that advanced marriage rights for gay couples and will almost certainly reshape the national debate on the issue.

In one 5-4 ruling, the court determined that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional because it violates due process and equal protection for same-sex couples under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That decision means the U.S. government must begin recognizing same-sex marriages for a broad range of benefits, including those related to federal taxes and immigration law.

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion and was joined by Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Kennedy said. “By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

The dissenting justices were Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. In his opinion, Roberts says Congress acted constitutionally in passing DOMA and took issue with the authority the court granted itself in overturning the anti-gay statute.

In another 5-4 decision, the court determined anti-gay forces don’t have standing to defend California’s Proposition 8. That decision leaves in place a district court injunction that prohibits the state of California from enforcing its ban on same-sex marriage. Gay couples will be able to marry in the state once the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lift its stay.

Roberts wrote the majority opinion for the court and was joined by Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan. Kennedy wrote the dissenting opinion and was joined by Thomas, Alito and Sotomayor.

“The Article III requirement that a party invoking the jurisdiction of a federal court seek relief for a personal, particularized injury serves vital interests going to the role of the Judiciary in our system of separated powers,” Roberts writes. “States cannot alter that role simply by issuing to private parties who otherwise lack standing a ticket to the federal courthouse.”

The court’s ruling in the case against Prop 8, known as Hollingsworth v. Perry, is specific only to California — meaning the justices didn’t grant the expansive ruling that supporters of marriage equality had sought to bring marriage equality to all 50 states.

Shortly after HRC President Chad Griffin walked out of the court with plaintiffs in the marriage cases, he received a call from President Obama who was aboard Air Force One. Obama congratulated Griffin for the victories as reporters and onlookers watched.

The decisions were handed down 10 years to the day that the Supreme Court announced its landmark decision in the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state sodomy laws throughout the country.

The challenge to DOMA, known as United States v. Windsor, was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and others in 2011 on behalf of lesbian New York widow Edith Windsor. Upon the death of her spouse Thea Spyer in 2009, Windsor had to pay the U.S. government $363,000 in estate taxes because of DOMA — a penalty that she wouldn’t have faced if she were married to a woman.

The decision striking down DOMA affirms the initial rulings against the federal anti-gay law last year by U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones and the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Obama administration helped in securing the ruling against DOMA. After it stopped defending DOMA in 2011, the U.S. Justice Department began filing briefs against the law and sent attorneys to litigate against it during oral arguments. U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued against DOMA before the Supreme Court, saying the law doesn’t hold up under the standard heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption it’s unconstitutional.

But the Supreme Court didn’t get to the issue of heightened scrutiny in the DOMA case because it found the law was unconstitutional under the less stringent standard of rational basis review.

The case against Prop 8 was filed by the California-based American Foundation for Equal Rights in 2009 on behalf of two plaintiff couples — a lesbian couple, Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, and a gay male couple, Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo — who were unable to marry because of the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

The attorneys representing them were Theodore Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general during the Bush administration, and David Boies, a so-called “dream team” of attorneys who represented opposite sides in the 2000 case Bush v. Gore.

Because the state officials — California Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris — refused to defend Prop 8 in court, anti-gay groups that put Prop 8 on the ballot in 2008 such as took up the responsibility of defending the measure. The California Supreme Court certified the groups had standing under state law and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed they had standing.

But the high court determined that these groups — even though attorney Charles Cooper spoke on behalf on them in oral arguments — don’t have standing because they lack any legal injury in the wake of the lower court’s determination that Prop 8 is unconstitutional.

The Obama administration had also assisted in efforts to secure a ruling against California’s Proposition 8. The Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief in February saying the ban was unconstitutional and Verrilli argued in court against Prop 8, suggesting all eight states with domestic partnerships should be required to grant marriage rights to gay couples.

The issue of standing also came up in the DOMA case for two reasons. One, the court had questioned whether the U.S. Justice Department could have appealed the district court ruling to the Second Circuit because the initial ruling against DOMA was what the Obama administration wanted. Two, the court questioned whether the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, a five-member Republican-majority panel within the U.S. House, had standing to take up defense of DOMA in the administration’s stead.

But the court determined an active controversy remains in the case because the U.S. government still hasn’t refunded Windsor the $363,000 she paid in estate taxes. Once the court determined it has jurisdiction based on the Obama administration’s appeal of the lawsuit, it didn’t get to the issue of whether BLAG has standing.

In his ruling, Kennedy writes the continuation of litigation in the absence of a federal ruling on DOMA would cause uncertainty.

“[T]he costs, uncertainties, and alleged harm and injuries likely would continue for a time measured in years before the issue is resolved,” Kennedy writes in the ruling. “In these unusual and urgent circumstances, the very term ‘prudential’ counsels that it is a proper exercise of the Court’s responsibility to take jurisdiction.”


Elated plaintiffs call court decisions victory for families


HRC President Chad Griffin joined plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case on the Supreme Court steps Wednesday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The lesbian and gay couples that served as the main plaintiffs in Wednesday’s historic Supreme Court decision overturning California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage said the decision would have a profound positive impact on gay families in their home state and beyond.

California residents Kris Perry, after whom the case has been named, and her partner Sandy Stier told reporters and a crowd of onlookers outside the Supreme Court that the enormity of the legal ramifications of the case was for them overshadowed by its impact on their family, especially their four sons.

“Today is a great day for American children and families,” Perry told the gathering. “Sandy and I want to say how happy we are not only to be able to return to California and finally get married but to be able to say to the children in California, no matter where you live, no matter who your parents are, no matter what family you’re in, you are equal.”

Perry added, “And today we go back to California and say to our own children, all four of our boys – your family is just as good as everybody else’s family. We love you as much as anybody else’s parents love their kids. And now we’re going to be equal to every other family in California.”

Californians Jeff Zarrillo and his partner Paul Katami, the other couple that served as lead plaintiff’s in the Prop 8 case, told the gathering outside the Supreme Court that they, too, look forward to returning to their home state to get married.

“Prop 8 allowed us to turn our anger into action,” Katami told the gathering. “So although we celebrate today, we work to make sure that everyone like Jeff and I and Kris and Sandy can just get married because it’s the natural next step in our relationship,” he said.

“We want to join the institution of marriage not to take anything away but to strengthen it, to live up to its ideals.”

In a development that prompted both cheers and tears from onlookers, Katami turned to Zarrillo, his voice breaking, and said, “And today I final get to look at the man I love and say, ‘Will you marry me?’”

With Zarrillo nodding in the affirmative, the two men kissed and embraced as news photographers TV camera crews recorded their action.

Following the two couples’ initial comments, which came at a news conference organized jointly by the Human Rights Campaign and the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), which initiated the legal challenge to Prop 8 five years ago, the couples walked along the sidewalk outside the Supreme Court building speaking to individual television news outlets whose camera crews lined the sidewalk.

During one of those interviews, HRC President Chad Griffin, who accompanied the couples, excitedly informed them that President Obama just called Griffin’s cell phone from Air Force One, which was taking the president on a state visit to Africa.

Reporters and onlookers watched with interest as Griffin handed his cell phone to the couples, who spoke briefly with Obama.

“It’s incredible,” Griffin told reporters minutes later. “The president just called from Air Force One and he was thanking our team and the plaintiffs for their courage. And he said because of their courage thousands upon thousands of people will be able to join in the celebration of marriage very soon,” Griffin said.

Katami and Zarrillo told people standing near them that they thanked the president for calling them and invited him to their wedding.

“They’re quick,” observed attorney Theodore Boutrous, the law firm partner of lead plaintiff attorney Ted Olsen in the Prop 8 case. Olsen, who was in court on Wednesday in an unrelated case in Philadelphia, wasn’t able to attend the Supreme Court session announcing the Prop 8 decision.

“They get the president on the phone and they invite him to their wedding,” said Boutrous. “So it’s exciting. Not too many cases end with such a joyous thing, that people who want to get married can get married. This is a good one,” he said.

Perry told the Blade she, too, was excited to hear from Obama.

“When the leader of the free world tells a couple like Sandy and I that he respects our relationship and he hopes we can get married soon and show our kids that we’re a family, it says everything,” she said. “We couldn’t be prouder to have him call and tell us that.”

Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president for communications, said Edith Windsor, 85, the lead plaintiff in the DOMA case, which bears her name, would be celebrating the decision in New York City. Windsor is a New York State resident who challenged DOMA in court following the death of her wife, whom she married in Canada, and the refusal of the IRS to waive her estate tax in the same way that tax is waived for opposite-sex married couples.

With DOMA overturned Wednesday by the Supreme Court, Windsor’s attorneys are expected to call on the IRS to retroactively refund the estate tax she was forced to pay.

Windsor was also scheduled to serve as a grand marshal in New York City’s LGBT Pride Parade this weekend.


Supreme Court oral arguments audio

The Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments today in the Hollingsworth v. Perry appeal, challenging California’s anti-gay constitutional amendment passed by ballot known as Proposition 8. Check out our in-the-courtroom analysis here.


Activists clash over marriage

Opponents of same sex marriage held a rally on the Mall and marched to the Supreme Court where they were met with chants from LGBT rights advocates. Activists from both sides of the marriage debate had gathered on Capitol Hill during the oral arguments for the Hollingsworth v. Perry case which will decide the fate of California’s Proposition 8. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key and Blake Bergen) buyphoto 


Supreme Court sets oral arguments for marriage cases

Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

State groups welcomed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to consider the constitutionality of DOMA, Proposition 8. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Supreme Court announced on Monday that it would hear oral arguments in the legal challenges against California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act on two separate dates in March.

According to the calendar, arguments for the challenge against Prop 8, known as Hollingsworth v. Perry, is set for March 26, while the arguments for the challenge against DOMA, known as Windsor v. United States, is set for March 27.

The Supreme Court announced it would take up the lawsuits on Dec. 7. Justices must render a decision before their term ends in June.


Newsom: Supreme Court defeat would trigger new ballot measure

Calif. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom by Michael Key Washington Blade

On the same day the Supreme Court hard oral arguments in a case challenging his state’s gay marriage ban, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom spoke at length about Prop 8, Barney Frank and more in an interview. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

California Lt. Gov. and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom says a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage would prompt the California Legislature to place a pro-marriage equality referendum on the ballot in 2014.

In an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade on Tuesday, after attending the Supreme Court’s oral arguments on the Prop 8 case, Newsom said he is confident the court will strike down Prop 8. He said he’s hopeful but less confident that the high court will issue a broader decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

But Newsom predicted that a “worst case scenario” ruling upholding Prop 8 would trigger an immediate backlash in the LGBT community in California and among the state’s pro-marriage equality lawmakers. This would lead to placing a Prop 8 repeal measure on the ballot, most likely in the 2014 election cycle, he said.

“I don’t know if I want to use the word shock because that’s a little hyperbolic,” he said in describing the reaction to a decision leaving Prop 8 in place. “But that backlash would immediately precipitate a ballot measure that most likely in this case…the legislature would put that on the ballot,” he said.

“It would require two-thirds of the legislature. There is two-thirds of the legislature now that supports marriage equality,” he said.

“So you wouldn’t even have to get the signatures,” Newsom added. “And I think that would immediately happen. And we would put on a campaign to end all campaigns. And we would win quite handily in 2014.”

Newsom told the Blade he has no regrets over his highly controversial decision in 2004 to use his authority as San Francisco mayor to direct the city to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples before any court or state governmental body gave the go-ahead for such marriages.

In February 2004 Newsom himself performed the first of the city-authorized same-sex nuptials in a City Hall ceremony that drew national and international press coverage. The couple joined in marriage in that ceremony was longtime lesbian activists Phyllis Lion and Del Martin, who were in their 80s.

“[T]hat one couple, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, became 4,036 additional couples from 46 states,” Newsom said, noting that other same-sex couples came to San Francisco from eight countries to get married.

“And it wasn’t just the couples,” he said. “What was so profound about that in February 2004 were the mothers and fathers and the brothers and sisters and the grandparents and grandkids that all assembled there – tens of thousands of people celebrating life, celebrating love, celebrating marriage.”

Less than a year later, however, gay marriage opponents succeeded in obtaining a court ruling barring Newsom and San Francisco authorities from performing same-sex marriages. The ruling also declared all of the same-sex marriages performed by the city as invalid.

Critics of Newsom’s decision to authorize the marriages, including then-U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who’s gay, blamed Newsom for playing into the hands of anti-gay groups seeking to ban same-sex marriage through state constitutional amendments.

Close to a dozen such amendments passed through ballot measures that year, and some political pundits said the ballot measures helped Republican George W. Bush win the 2004 presidential election by drawing conservative voters to the polls in larger than usual numbers.

Newsom and LGBT activists who supported his decision to authorize the San Francisco marriages say the action boosted efforts to challenge California’s ban on same-sex marriage in the state courts. In early 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a right to marry under the state’s constitution, opening the way for same-sex couples to marry throughout the state.

But voters overturned the court’s decision in November 2008 when they approved Proposition 8. Subsequent court challenges to Prop 8 resulted in it coming before the U.S. Supreme Court in Tuesday’s oral arguments.

Newsom said he was troubled by the criticism he received, especially criticism form Frank, who he says he deeply respects as an LGBT rights advocate.

“So I respectfully disagree with him,” Newsom told the Blade. “And I think there’s thousands and thousands of people who came to San Francisco who would respectfully disagree with him.”

According to Newsom, his and his city’s decision to permit same-sex marriages led to marriage equality advances in subsequent years.

“I think it required shaking things up a little bit because I think just waiting around for the courts…we could take 30 years, 40 years,” he said. “And I think in many ways what we did certainly inspired the California Supreme Court.”


Following is a transcript of Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom’s interview with the Washington Blade:

Washington Blade: What were your thoughts on how the arguments went on Tuesday as you observed them in the Supreme Court chambers?

Gavin Newsom:  It’s a humbling experience any time you listen to oral arguments at the Supreme Court because in most every instance history is being made. And to see this arc over the last nine, 10 years and to see the progress that’s been made, public opinion shifting and knowing what’s at stake for California and Californians but also for the country in its prospects on marriage equality, it was a pretty wonderful experience.


Blade: Did you have a sense of which direction the justices may go?

Newsom: We all come in with our preconceived biases. I’ve long felt that the narrow decision was most likely, although I confess that I got caught up in the spirit of the times in the last two months, hoping perhaps the issue and the arguments persuade a broader, national conversation.

That clearly didn’t happen in the courtroom at least. It certainly happened in the briefs, but not in the courtroom in terms of the oral arguments. So I left with that as a caveat of disappointment but realizing an hour or so later, reflecting on it, that it went as well as I could ever have hoped a few months ago.

And I feel stronger now that the likelihood of Prop 8 being struck down has grounded itself in the oral arguments either on standing, which everyone seemed to be coveting. It was interesting, the focus on that, or on the limited, narrow question of the Ninth Circuit.


Blade: Are you sensing the court may rule on the narrow issue of allowing same-sex marriages in California but not in other states?

Newsom: Yeah, I think it’s more likely than not. I want to be surprised and I desperately want to be wrong because I think this is a fundamental civil right. It’s a constitutional right. And it should be afforded every American, not just Californians. And so I really do hope I’m wrong. But based on the passing reference, ironically, from [Justice Antonin] Scalia – the notion of 50 states being impacted by this decision – I walked away feeling that’s less likely. Again, I hope I’m wrong.


Blade: Are you basing that also on what some of the more liberal and progressive justices were saying?

Newsom: Yeah. Even [Justice Sonia] Sotomayor’s own comments – I was sort of struck by that. I hope people were playing devil’s advocate, and that’s often the case with this court. So perhaps that was a reflection of that point of view or at least that kind of Socratic engagement with the attorneys.

But you know, this idea that you can let states decide the rights of a minority is preposterous to me. I mean, it just flies in the face of our history. If you submit the rights of a minority to the whims of the majority you’ll get what we’ve historically gotten. And that’s oppression of the minority rights. And I just don’t accept it.


Blade: You have been involved with this from the outset or at least since 2004. Could you say a little about what you were thinking when you shook up a lot of people by having San Francisco perform same-sex marriages at that time before any court declared they were legal? Weren’t you the first to perform one of those marriages for a lesbian couple at City Hall?

Newsom: I guess I was, certainly from an elective office. So there’s no doubt about that. You know, it’s interesting. We wanted to put a human face on it, period. And you know what? Frankly, that was the one thing – if there was anything that sat with me [on Tuesday] it was how little we talked about the human element here at the [U.S. Supreme] court. And I understand that. My father is a judge. This is a courtroom. There are legal briefs. But with the exception of [Justice Anthony] Kennedy, who brought up children into the courtroom, which I thought was significant and telling. I thought it was an important take away in terms of where Kennedy may be.

You know, what we did in 2004 was I didn’t want to listen to President Bush out there on the campaign trail supporting a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage…

But that one couple, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, became 4,036 additional couples from 46 states. It was truly nationalized. It was not a local issue in San Francisco – 46 states and eight countries – and it wasn’t just the couples. What was so profound about that in February 2004 were the mothers and fathers and the brothers and sisters and grandparents and grandkids that all assembled there — tens of thousands of people celebrating life, celebrating love, celebrating marriage.

And it deepened my connection to not only the issue but to the community and my passion for equal rights. And I was struck by how many of my fellow Democrats ran, didn’t walk, from the issue in 2004, 5, 6, 7, 8. And only until recently have we seen a cascade of leadership which is fabulous, from [New York Governor Andrew] Cuomo and [Maryland Governor Martin] O’Malley to the president himself and others elected who are showing courage now. And I’m humbled by that now. But I’m frustrated a bit that it took even this long because we were having a lot of private conversations, and they weren’t disclosing publicly. There’s nothing worse than politicians saying one thing privately and doing another thing publicly.


Blade: Are you saying they were saying they supported marriage equality privately but not publicly?

Newsom: Yeah – in most cases. And they were just worried about their political career. I get that. But you know what? I like the politicians that are worried about the people they claim to represent more than they do their own political future. That’s sort of my argument on this assault weapons discussion right now. It kind of gets me a little angry – that people are worried more about their own elections than the faces of those kids in Newtown.


Blade: Then Congressman Barney Frank was among those that said your decision to perform same-sex marriages as mayor of San Francisco led to the passage of the state ballot measures banning same-sex marriage and raised the threat of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage passing in Congress.

Newsom: You know, I’m not going to – he’s gone out of his way to say that over and over again. And I’ll continue to go out of my way to celebrate his leadership in terms of LGBT rights. I don’t even belong in the same room as he in terms of what he’s done for the community. So I respectfully disagree with him. And I think a lot of people do. And I think there’s thousands and thousands of couples who came to San Francisco who would respectfully disagree with him.

And I think it required shaking things up a little bit because I think just waiting around for the courts – one off here, one off here – we could take 30 years, 40 years. And I think in many ways what we did certainly inspired the California Supreme Court [to declare same-sex marriages legal]. So I would hope that Congressman Frank sees that. But he’s long expressed his condemnation of what I did and continues to do so for whatever reason.


Blade: On the other hand, Evan Wolfson, head of the same-sex marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry, has said pushing for marriage equality, even if it leads to setbacks, changes the hearts and minds of the public and leads to advances in the long run.

Newsom: Yeah – and I’ve talked to – and this sounds preposterous – but I’ve had the privilege of talking to people overseas that said this had an impact on their decision-making in Europe and their leadership there when they saw the human face and they saw those images. So I’m with Evan. I’ve long admired Evan. And you’re not kidding. He was out there in the early ‘90s. So he’s one of my heroes and one of the heroes of the movement. But there are many. I just left Rob Reiner. He was a huge supporter of what we did in 2004 and, of course, sponsored so much of the good work that Ted Olsen just did and is doing and Boies and Chad Griffin. It’s just incredible. Our own city attorney, Dennis Herrera, he put together a great team — Theresa Stuart. There’s so many champions and heroes in the fight. And I respect Barney Frank, but he wasn’t in the courtroom today and a lot of folks were, and they deserved to be and I respect their advocacy.


Blade: Now that you’re in a statewide office as lieutenant governor, do you have a sense of what kind of repercussions there might be in California and the nation as a whole if the Supreme Court rules either for or against marriage equality?  What about the people of the eastern part of California, who seem to be so different politically than the people of San Francisco or L.A.?

Newsom: You’re not kidding. I’ll be out there tomorrow. I’ll be in the Modesto Central Valley area at 1 o’clock tomorrow. The old frame of California used to be north and south. And you just hit it on the head. It’s increasingly now coastal-inland-east-west.  The politics is radically different in the central part of the state.

I think most pundits, and they may, in hindsight, dismiss this assertion. But I’ll tell you that I can point to almost every pundit in California that said I could never get elected statewide in California because of my support of same-sex marriage. And we proved them wrong. Though candidly, I didn’t know they would be wrong. I thought it was questionable as well.

In some parts of our state they’re particularly conservative. So there will be repercussions, absolutely. But you now see – and I never read the polls in 2004 because if I did I never would have done what I did because it was partly unpopular even in San Francisco.

The polls today are two to one in favor of marriage equality in California – two to one in the recent polls. So I think the repercussions will be negligible at best.

Across the country, you know this. You write about this. You guys have been at this forever. This is not even Republican-Democrat any more. It’s generational and it’s overwhelming. You cannot deny the generational component. So these guys are holding on – the opponents – they’re just holding on. I don’t want to say this is the last gasp because I think some states will hold on for a much longer time unless the courts intervene.

But this is a tsunami, a generational tsunami that 80 percent of 30-year-olds or younger [support marriage equality]. This court – I hope they – they’re human beings. I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of history on this. If I’m a relatively young judge like [Chief Justice John] Roberts, why do you want to be on the wrong side of history when it comes to a civil right?


Blade: Will you be going to the DOMA case tomorrow?

Newsom: I wish I could. I’ve got to head back to my events in the Central Valley. But I feel confident. The good news about DOMA is it kind of hits these guys on both sides of the ideological aisle. From a federal perspective, this is federalism and states’ rights on the right. And then on the left we can make similar arguments that we made today. I feel a little more confident on DOMA, though I feel equally confident in both cases. Although, again, I think it’s going to be a narrow decision on Prop 8 and then a repeal of DOMA outright.


Blade: If Proposition 8 were to somehow go back to the voters are you optimistic that it wouldn’t pass and marriage equality would prevail?

Newsom: To be candid with you, the backlash would exist there. I think there would be an intense response if the [Supreme Court] overturned the Ninth Circuit [U.S. Court of Appeals in California that ruled against Prop 8]. I don’t know if I want to use the word shock because that’s a little hyperbolic. But that backlash would immediately precipitate a ballot [measure] that most likely in this case – and this is one of the interesting facts of California right now – I think the legislature would put that on the ballot. It would require two-thirds of the legislature. There is two-thirds of the legislature now that supports marriage equality. So you wouldn’t even have to get signatures. And I think that would immediately happen.

And we would put on a campaign to end all campaigns. And we would win quite handily in 2014. So eventually even in the worst case scenario we would win at the ballot box, I believe. But the impact of that, I think, would be intensely felt across the country.

And I think, frankly, if I were opposed to marriage equality I’d be more worried about that because I think the backlash would inspire, with intensity, aggressive movements to overturn not just Prop 8 in California but all across the country in those 31 constitutional restricted states, etc.


Blade: Marriage equality advocate Robin Tyler of L.A. told us this week that she feels Prop 8 helped the LGBT cause and marriage equality because it energized and activated the LGBT community like never before and helped bring on the recent successes in passing same-sex marriage laws in several states. Do you agree with that assessment?

Newsom: I agree with that generally. I’ll never forget. I was so intimately involved in that. My image was used against our campaign or against our efforts. And whether we like it or not, it was a painful thing. The backdrop was we were celebrating Obama’s win at the same time we were lamenting Prop 8’s victory.

And people were stunned in many ways. We saw it coming in the last two weeks of the campaign when the polls started to shift. So some of us on the inside weren’t as surprised. But I think the general consensus was one of shock. And it really did galvanize people to say, you know what? If California can legally grant same-sex marriage and in California see them take it away, my gosh, we’ve got to wake up every state and get organized with great intensity. So I think she’s right.

I think you saw a lot of great work done across the country that built up the momentum in New York and Maryland and got us where we were in Maine and Washington State and, of course, all the other legislative victories on civil unions. But you’re right, it was painful. And guys like Congressman Frank could say, ‘Look, I told you so’ after the blowback with all those state constitutional amendments. But that’s the nature of the right struggle, good days and bad days.

And now we’re leaning into history in a very positive way and I hope and like to think it’s much faster than it would have been if we just sat back passively and waited our time and got permission. Some people argue we all need permission. David Boies also needed permission to do what they did. And I’m glad they didn’t wait. I’m glad they did what they did. And I’m glad we did what we did. So good people can disagree and history will judge.


Mormons, religious groups file brief in support of Prop 8

A temple for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (photo from wikimedia by Joe Ravi)

A temple for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (photo from wikimedia by Joe Ravi)

The participation of the Church of Latter-Day Saints in a legal brief filed by religious groups in favor of California’s Proposition 8 is vexing an organization that advocates for LGBT Mormons.

In a 38-page friend-of-the-court brief, filed before the Supreme Court Jan. 29, religious groups — including the Mormon Church — emphasize that justices shouldn’t strike down Prop 8 on the basis of religious support for the anti-gay amendment. The brief is signed by Von Keech, a Utah-based private attorney who has previously assisted the Mormon Church, as well as other private attorneys with his firm Alexander Dushku, R. Shawn Gunnarson and Kirton McConkie.

“[O]ur members supported Proposition 8 based on sincere beliefs in the value of traditional marriage for children, families, society, and our republican form of government,” the brief states. “Only a demeaning view of religion and religious believers could dismiss our advocacy of Proposition 8 as ignorance, prejudice, or animus.”

In a statement on Monday, Affirmation, a national group for gay and lesbian Mormons, questioned why the Mormon Church would participate in a legal brief in favor of Prop 8 after backing off its support of anti-gay measures since the passage of the California’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2008.

“I agree that churches should have the freedom to petition the government and that Proposition 8 should not be invalidated due to religious support of the initiative,” said Affirmation President Randall Thacker, who’s gay. “However, we believe Proposition 8 should be invalidated on the grounds that it denies protections to same-sex couples who have committed to care and provide for each other and their children, a grouping that is clearly defined as a family by the majority of society.”

Spencer Clark, who’s straight and president of Mormons for Marriage Equality, said he agrees the law should provide a foundation for strong families, but said Prop 8 harms children being raised by same-sex parents.

“Unfortunately, Proposition 8 provides no additional benefits to straight couples while denying substantial benefits and legitimacy to gay and lesbian couples who are also raising children,” Clark said. “The brief argues for a conception of marriage that blatantly ignores the hundreds of thousands of children in the United States being raised by same-sex couples, pretending that these loving families don’t exist.”

In 2008, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was among the strongest advocates of Prop 8 when it came before California voters as a ballot measure. The church called on members to become involved with the campaign, who contributed as much as half of the $40 million raised and consisted of up to 90 percent of the initial volunteer force to support the ballot measure.

But many observers believe the passage of Prop  8 resulted in a negative press for the Mormon Church. Since that time, the church hasn’t been as involved in ballot initiatives involving marriage, came out in support of an non-discrimination ordinance in Salt Lake City, and launched a website called to encourage gay members to stay within the church.

A spokesperson for the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City said she couldn’t respond in time for Blade deadline on why the church was participating in a legal brief after adopting a more pro-LGBT tone.

Other groups whose names are on the brief are the National Association of Evangelicals, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; the Romanian-American Evangelical Alliance of North America; and Truth in Action Ministries.

The brief offers three major reasons for why the Supreme Court should uphold Prop 8, which the court is currently reviewing as result of pending litigation known as Hollingsworth v. Perry: 1) Prop 8 reflects a rational choice amid conflicting views of marriage, not prejudice; 2) Prop 8 should not be invalid because it expresses the views of religious voters; 3) Prop 8 is in line with the values of California voters and more likely to sustain the institute of marriage.

“Proposition 8 expresses the people’s sense that society should continue preserving marriage as the institutional bond joining together and protecting a husband, a wife, and their children,” the brief states. “That complex judgment was no doubt influenced by traditional marriage’s roots in California’s history, culture, laws, and diverse religions and by the public goods the people understand it provides in erecting an orderly social mechanism to cope with natural reproduction … and in protecting the family setting where children thrive best … and best acquire the ‘moral powers requisite for politically liberal citizenship.’”

The brief concludes: “The people of California violated no one’s civil rights when they adopted Proposition 8. Their twice- expressed preference for the traditional definition of marriage over an untested rival conception was thoroughly rational. It is therefore thoroughly constitutional.”

The same religious groups — including the Mormon Church — also filed a 22-page friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act. Similar to the Prop 8 brief, the DOMA brief contends the anti-gay federal law shouldn’t be made invalid because of the moral and religious views voiced in support of it. The brief is signed by Von Keetch and the same other attorneys who signed the Prop 8 brief.


And the wait for a decision begins….

The Supreme Court has the briefs in Hollingsworth v. Perry (the Prop 8 case) and United States v. Windsor (the Defense of Marriage Act case). The rallies are over; the oral arguments have been heard. The slew of amicus briefs filed have been read, including one signed by 172 members of the 435-member House of Representatives — nearly 40 percent — maintaining that DOMA unconstitutionally deprives same-sex couples of the right to be treated equally.

Justices heard about the first Republican senator, Rob Portman (R-Ohio) who came out for same-sex marriage based on his son being gay. Hillary Clinton has spoken out for same-sex marriage joining former President Bill Clinton who now recognizes that DOMA, a bill he signed, is unconstitutional. President Jimmy Carter came out for marriage equality along with hundreds of America’s leading businesses from Walt Disney to Goldman Sachs. President Obama’s Justice Department weighed in strongly on both cases saying any prohibition on same-sex marriage, or the federal government’s ability to recognize legal same-sex marriages, is unconstitutional.

Now we wait for six men and three women to determine whether lesbian and gay individuals can live our lives to our full potential; publicly declare our love; and share in the benefits and obligations of civil marriage. History would suggest that like last year where the fate of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was decided, we won’t hear the justices’ decision until the last day of the court term.

While speculation runs rampant about who the swing justice or justices will be, I suggest we remember Obamacare and prepare to be surprised. Many agree the political fight over same-sex marriage is all but over. By increasing numbers, Americans support same-sex marriage. They see more friends and relatives come out and have concluded that their loved ones deserve the same rights they have. It was a noteworthy sign of the times that Chief Justice John Roberts’ lesbian niece Jean Podrasky sat and listened to her cousin ask questions from the bench related to how she can live her life.

In the Prop 8 case there was interesting discussion around the options. In the first 30 seconds, Roberts asked the proponents of Prop 8 to address whether they have “standing” to bring the case. Justice Kennedy commented that the court may have acted too quickly in taking the case. But in the discussion over whether anyone is harmed by same-sex marriage, Kennedy said if same-sex marriage were not allowed it would be the 40,000 children living with same-sex parents who would be harmed. Justice Kagan, to some laughter, addressed the issue of the claim that marriage is for procreation only by suggesting that in that case couples where both husband and wife are over 55 couldn’t be married. That led to a rather humorous back and forth on fertility. It appears that the court may look at the amicus brief submitted by former acting Solicitor General Walter Dellinger and rule that the parties bringing the case had no standing. That would lead to same-sex marriage being legal in California but have no impact on other states. They could also declare that prohibiting same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and throw out laws in the 32 states that now prohibit it. Judging by the questions asked and the comments made that result now looks unlikely.

Though not a lawyer, my prediction is that DOMA will be overturned by a vote of 6 to 3 with both Roberts and Kennedy siding with the majority. The court will punt with regard to Proposition 8 and go with states’ rights ruling 5 to 4 that in essence same-sex marriage is legal in California but not apply the ruling to any other state.

I pray for more. My hope is that the Supreme Court will side with the arc of history. But with or without them we will move forward and win in the long run. If the court doesn’t stand for full equality now the battles will continue state by state. Then despite how quickly momentum is moving toward equality it will still take time for same-sex marriage to be a universal right.