The California Supreme Court by a 6-1 vote yesterday upheld the state's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, ruling that the California Constitution gives voters broad powers to amend it.
But same-sex marriage will continue to exist in California because the court said unanimously that 18,000 previously performed gay and lesbian marriages will still be recognized.
In the court's ruling, Chief Justice Ronald George wrote, "Those marriages remain valid in all respects."
Responding to the ruling, State Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-10th), whose district includes Pleasanton, said:
"Today's ruling places us at a crossroads in California history where we, as a state must ask ourselves whether equal protection should continue to be a fundamental right guaranteed to all citizens under our Constitution without any exceptions. I am confident that the day will soon come when the people of this state recognize that we will not have true equality until all citizens of this state are granted the freedom to marry."
The gay marriage ban was passed as Proposition 8 by 52 percent of voters on Nov. 4. As a constitutional amendment, it overturned a ruling in which the court said a year ago that the constitution's guarantee of equal treatment provides a right to same-sex marriage.
The 18,000 existing marriages were performed between last June, when the court's previous marriage ruling went into effect, and the Nov. 4 election.
The court issued its ruling at its headquarters at the State Building in San Francisco, where several hundred people on both sides of the issue awaited the decision outside the building.
Gay rights groups said they plan to turn to the ballot process to reinstate same-sex marriage through another voter initiative in 2010.
Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco, said, "Today's decision is a terrible blow to same-sex couples who share the same hopes and dreams for their families as other Californians.
"But our path ahead is now clear. We will go back to the ballot box and we will win," Minter said.
However, Andrew Pugno, a lawyer for the sponsors of Proposition 8, said, "We are extremely pleased that the Supreme Court has acknowledged the right of voters to define marriage in the California Constitution."
Pugno said, "The voters have decided this issue and their views should be respected."
The attorney said any future efforts to repeal Proposition 8 at the ballot box "will be vigorously contested."
The court ruled on three lawsuits in which same-sex couples and local governments argued Proposition 8 was so broad it amounted to a constitutional revision, not an amendment.
A constitutional revision would require approval of two-thirds of the Legislature in addition to a majority of voters.
The court majority said Proposition 8 "by no means makes such a far reaching change in the California Constitution as to amount to a constitutional revision."
George wrote in a 136-page majority opinion that the initiative made a "narrow and limited exception" to equal rights by restricting access to the term "marriage," but said it did not affect same-sex couples' right to form families through domestic partnerships.
The chief justice said gay and lesbian couples continue to have "a state constitutional right to enter into an officially recognized and protected family relationship with the person of one's choice and to raise children in that family if the couple so chooses."
Justice Carlos Moreno said in a dissent he considered Proposition 8 to be a revision because it "strikes at the core of the promise of equality that underlies our California Constitution."
All seven justices agreed Proposition 8 was not retroactive for two reasons: because ballot materials did not unambiguously say it was retroactive and because invalidating previous same-sex marriages would take away vested property rights.
The court said applying Proposition 8 retroactively would "disrupt thousands of actions" taken by married same-sex couples, "throwing property rights in disarray (and) destroying the legal interests and expectations of thousands of couples and their families."
The three lawsuits were filed by six same-sex couples represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the ACLU; another lesbian couple; and 15 cities and counties led by San Francisco, Santa Clara County and the city of Los Angeles.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is running for governor, said, "California at its best is a beacon of equal rights and equal opportunities. If we want to prosper together, we must respect each other.
"That's why we must resolve to overturn this decision," Newsom said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said, "While I believe that one day either the people or courts will recognize gay marriage, as governor of California I will uphold the decision of the California Supreme Court.
The governor added, "Regarding the 18,000 marriages that took place prior to Proposition 8's passage, the Court made the right decision in keeping them intact."
Same-sex marriage is now legal or about to be in five states. Connecticut, Massachusetts and Iowa allow such marriages, and laws permitting them will go into effect in Vermont and Maine in September. A bill to allow same-sex marriage is pending in New Hampshire.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said, "I know today's decision is a tremendous disappointment for many people. But I also know that the opinions of Californians are changing on this issue, and I believe that equal marriage rights will one day be the law in this state."
Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, a Sacramento-based group that supports traditional marriage, decried the court's decision to let the existing 18,000 gay marriages stand.
Thomasson said, "An arm and a leg have been cut off the natural institution of marriage in California."
Thomasson said the decision "means some 18,000 counterfeit marriages will be held out as role models to impressionable children."
Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, a gay rights group, said, "We are prepared to return to the ballot box together
with our allies to restore the freedom to marry.
"We are confident that same-sex couples will soon enjoy the honor, dignity and protections that only marriage provides," Kors said.
Proposition 8 added 14 words to the state Constitution: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."