SAN FRANCISCO – California’s Supreme Court upheld the state’s gay-marriage ban Tuesday but said the estimated 18,000 same-sex weddings that took place before the prohibition passed are still valid – a ruling decried by gay-rights activists as a hollow victory.
Demonstrators outside the court booed, wept and yelled, “Shame on you!” Activists said they would go back to the voters as early as next year in a bid to repeal the ban, and a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn it was filed late last week.
In a 6-1 decision written by Chief Justice Ron George, the court rejected arguments that the ban approved by the voters last fall was such a fundamental change in the California Constitution that it first needed the Legislature’s approval.
As for the thousands of couples who tied the knot last year in the five months that gay marriage was legal in California, the court said it is well-established principle that an amendment is not retroactive unless it is clear that the voters intended it to be, and that was not the case with Proposition 8.
Moreover, the court said it would be too disruptive to apply Proposition 8 retroactively and dissolve all gay marriages.
While gay rights advocates accused the court of failing to protect a minority group from the will of the majority, the justices said that the state’s governing framework gives voters almost unfettered ability to change the California Constitution.
The decision set off an outcry among a sea of demonstrators who had gathered in front of the San Francisco courthouse, holding signs and waving rainbow flags. Many people also held hands in a chain around an intersection in an act of protest. More than 150 protesters were arrested, with citations for failure to obey a police officer and jaywalking.
In San Francisco’s Castro district, where many gay men and lesbians live, the large rainbow gay pride flag that flies in Harvey Milk Plaza had been lowered to half-staff and a black stripe put on the top.
“We’re relieved our marriage was not invalidated, but this is a hollow victory because there are so many that are not allowed to marry those they love,” said Amber Weiss, 32, who was in the crowd at City Hall, near the courthouse, with her partner, Sharon Papo. They were married on the first day gay marriage was legal last year, June 17.
A small group of Proposition 8 supporters also gathered outside the court.
“A lot of people just assume we’re religious nuts. We’re not. But we are Christians and we believe in the Bible,” said George Popko, 22, a student at American River College in Sacramento, where the student government officially endorsed Proposition 8.
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