Four years ago in February, San Francisco City Hall was a chapel of love. Mayor Gavin Newsom had announced that -- a 2000 voter-approved initiative that limited marriage to heterosexual couples notwithstanding -- San Francisco would allow gay and lesbian couples to wed. More than 4,000 same-sex couples obtained licenses that would allow them to pronounce, "I do."
First they had to sign an application with a disclaimer that the nuptials may not be recognized elsewhere. Then there was this caveat: "No refunds."
"That makes it official," I wrote at the time. "This is a stunt."
I thought the California Supreme Court confirmed my opinion when it voided the marriages.
Thursday, however, the state Supreme Court issued a new 4-3 opinion. It is official: The stunt is now law in California -- although the federal government and 48 states will not recognize California's same-sex unions.
In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Ron George wrote that state lawmakers had conferred the same rights on same-sex unions that they have conferred on heterosexual couples. "California recently has enacted comprehensive domestic partnership legislation that affords same-sex couples the opportunity, by entering into a domestic partnership, to obtain virtually all of the legal benefits, privileges, responsibilities, and duties that California law affords to and imposes upon married couples," George wrote.
Except heterosexuals can call themselves married, while homosexuals cannot.
The problem is, according to George, only the term "marriage" which confers "the understanding that this word describes a family relationship unreservedly sanctioned by the community." The fact that gays and lesbians cannot refer to themselves as married "realistically must be viewed as constituting significantly unequal treatment to same-sex couples."
So by a slim majority, the California Supreme Court changed the law.
Like many people I know, I am ambivalent.
Unlike most Californians -- 61.4 percent of voters supported the heterosexuals-only Proposition 22 in 2000 -- I voted against the measure, in solidarity with same-sex couples. So on one level, I am very happy for the many gay couples across the state who celebrated what they saw as a none-too-soon ruling to end the secondhand status of their unions.
But I have to agree with Justice Marvin Baxter's dissenting opinion that the court "does not have the right to erase, then recast, the age-old definition of marriage, as virtually all societies have understood it, in order to satisfy its own contemporary notions of equality and justice."
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