Calif Justices Hear Arguments In Gay Marriage Case

By: By LISA LEFF and PAUL ELIAS
By: By LISA LEFF and PAUL ELIAS

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - California Supreme Court justices heard
arguments Thursday on lawsuits seeking to overturn the state's
voter-approved ban on same-sex nuptials as thousands demonstrated
outside the courthouse.

Gay rights advocates are urging the court to overturn
Proposition 8 on the grounds it was put before voters improperly,
or at least prematurely. Under state law, the Legislature must
approve significant constitutional changes before they can go on
the ballot.

Proposition 8's sponsors, represented in court by former
Pepperdine law school dean Kenneth Starr, argue that the ballot
initiative was approved correctly and that it would be a
miscarriage of justice for the court to overturn the results of a
fair election.

The ballot initiative, which passed with 52 percent of the vote
in November, changed the California Constitution to trump last
year's 4-3 Supreme Court decision that held that denying same-sex
couples the right to wed was an unconstitutional civil rights
violation.

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments on three points: is
Proposition 8 invalid because it constitutes a revision of, rather
than an amendment to, the California Constitution; does it violate
the separation of powers doctrine under the California
Constitution; and if it's not unconstitutional, what is its effect,
if any, on the marriages of same-sex couples performed before the
adoption of Proposition 8?

Minutes into the proceedings, the justices peppered lawyer
Shannon Minter, arguing for gay rights advocates, with tough
questions over how the 14 words of Proposition 8 represent a
revision of the state's constitution. Chief Justice Ron George
asked what rights were lost other than being able to label their
union as a marriage.

Justice Joyce Kennard noted that voters overturned a Supreme
Court ruling that the death penalty represented cruel and unusual
punishment.

"Life is, at least in my view, a fundamental right," Kennard
said.

Raymond Marshall, an attorney for minority groups such as the
NAACP, replied that death penalty applies to all Californians.

"I think what you are overlooking is the very broad powers of
the people to amend the constitution," Kennard told Marshall as he
finished up his arguments.

The status of the 18,000 gay marriages performed during the 4½
month window last year when the nuptials were legal was also
broached.

Justice Carlos Moreno pointed out that Proposition 8 states that
marriage "is" limited to a man and a woman.

"I know people can argue over what 'is' means," Moreno said.

"The language has to be unequivocal," replied San Francisco
deputy city attorney Therese Stewart, arguing to overturn
Proposition 8. "I don't think that's the case here."

Outside, gay marriage rights supporters and opponents held signs
lobbying the justices to take their side.

Dana Tibbits, who drove 400 miles from her home in Ventura
County to join the crowd of Proposition 8 supporters, said she
there for the "approximately 7 million voters whose voices need to
be heard."

"I'm concerned about the justices, the weight of our vote and
the weight of our decision," Tibbits said.

On the other side, Ronald Cruz, 31, a law student at UC
Berkeley, said he wanted the measure overturned.

"The rallies and marches make it clear we are not taking second
class treatment anymore and that is what drives court decisions on
civil rights," he said.

On Wednesday night, several thousand people marched from San
Francisco's Castro District to City Hall to demonstrate public
support for invalidating Proposition 8.

The Supreme Court's seven justices have 90 days after the oral
arguments in which to issue a ruling.


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