TOPICS > Politics

California Prepares for Fallout as High Court Ruling on Prop. 8 Nears

June 13, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
In San Francisco, city employees are preparing for a rush of same-sex marriage applications in case the Supreme Court strikes down Proposition 8, which banned marriage for anyone except between a man and a woman. Spencer Michels looks at the history of California's fight on same-sex marriage and previews the court's decision.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: One of those highly anticipated gay marriage legal cases is the focus of our next story.

The Supreme Court is deciding whether California’s 2008 ballot measure banning same-sex couples from marrying is constitutional.

NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels previews the Proposition 8 case and how the Golden State is preparing for the ruling.

WOMAN: OK, I — state your name.

Do solemnly swear or affirm.

MEN AND WOMEN: Do solemnly swear or affirm.

SPENCER MICHELS: Volunteer city employees in San Francisco got trained this week on how to issue marriage licenses and perform ceremonies. The city is preparing for a possible rush of same-sex marriages if the Supreme Court allows them to start up again in California.

WOMAN: We want to be ready immediately so people can celebrate and get married as soon as possible.

SPENCER MICHELS: There must be some people in this city who disagree with the city’s stand on all of this.

WOMAN: You know, we’re not hearing from them.

SPENCER MICHELS: That training session took place here in San Francisco’s City Hall, where the whole controversy came to a head almost a decade ago. That was when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom decreed that San Francisco would begin performing same-sex marriages, despite a state ban on the practice; 4,000 couples got licenses and got married, to the dismay of conservative groups like the Campaign for Children and Families.

RANDY THOMASSON, Campaign for Children and Families: State law is very clear. Marriage is only for a man and a woman. The mayor of San Francisco is violating state law.

SPENCER MICHELS: Within a month, the state Supreme Court halted those weddings, and both sides of the debate took to the streets for a long fight. Eventually, the state Supreme Court decided such weddings were legal, and another 18,000 couples were wed, until Proposition 8, passed by the voters in 2008, banned same-sex marriage.

Prop 8 was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge, who asserted it was discriminatory, but the Supreme Court now must rule on that issue. And interested parties throughout California are waiting with bated breath.

WILLIAM MAY, Catholics for the Common Good: We certainly hope that the court will uphold the right of voters of California to define what marriage is.

SPENCER MICHELS: William May is president of Catholics for the Common Good and he was actively involved in the campaign to pass Prop 8.

WILLIAM MAY: Marriage between a man and a women forms the only civil institution that is geared towards uniting kids with their moms and dads. Today, we have too high of — incidents of single parenting, which is the root cause of poverty.

SPENCER MICHELS: But former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, now the state’s lieutenant governor, doesn’t see it that way at all. He’s still intensely interested in pursuing the revolution he helped to start.

LT. GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM, D-Calif.: I didn’t know what we were entering into. I felt like we needed to do something assertive, and we just started with one couple, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin.

It became this remarkable expression of love and remarkable experience for all of us.

SPENCER MICHELS: Ten states and the District of Columbia have approved same-sex marriage since Prop 8 passed. And national public opinion polls have indicated a shift towards more acceptance of those marriages.

Now the high court is delving into the complex case and that may require a complex decision.

Vik Amar teaches constitutional law at the University of California at Davis. And he says the court has several options.

VIK AMAR, University of California, Davis: Conceivably, the court could rule large in favor of the plaintiffs, proclaim a national right under the 14th Amendment to same-sex marriage. But that would mean invalidating laws of about 38 states, and so that’s a difficult thing for a court of unelected justices to do.

On the other hand, the court could reject the challenge to Prop 8 and say the federal Constitution doesn’t have anything to say about same-sex marriage, and same-sex marriage is a matter for each state to decide on its own.

SPENCER MICHELS: The court could also rule that since the state refused to defend Prop 8, the measure’s sponsors don’t have standing to defend it. The court could approve same-sex marriages for California, but not for all states. But should the court fail to approve at least some same-sex marriages, Newsom anticipates more activism.

GAVIN NEWSOM: God forbid they do the wrong thing, and they just reject. I will tell you, you want a backlash? You just wait if they go south. In many ways, it will just unite people that may be quietly supportive on the sideline that I think will say, all right, wait a second, this is a civil rights struggle.

SPENCER MICHELS: The court battle itself has reactivated many in the gay and lesbian community. In San Francisco, thousands of demonstrators rallied the day the court heard the case.

Among them was Andre Sanchez, a 30-year-old one-time gay activist and the partner of 31-year-old Wes McGaughey. Together for almost seven years, they figure it’s time to get married. Their bitterness toward Prop 8 convinced them to pull back from politics. But with the case pending, they are watching with personal interest. They intend to have a commitment ceremony, regardless of the justices’ decision.

WES MCGAUGHEY, Resident of California: I don’t know if we’re jumping the gun. We will do it with or without them. We would like to do it with them because we would like the same rights as anybody else.

ANDRE SANCHEZ, Resident of California: I would like to be equal to my parents. I would like Wes to be equal to his parents. And it’s just something that we have to fight for constantly.

SPENCER MICHELS: Sanchez, a Latino Catholic, says his family’s attitudes toward gay marriage have mirrored the national trend.

ANDRE SANCHEZ: My parents grew up very Catholic, so I had a really tough time coming out as a young man. Over six-and-a-half years, this evolution with my mom has been incredible. She went from someone who I would really tagline as a bigot — she hated the thought of me and Wes together — and as she got to know Wes, as she got to know us as a couple, she really accepted him.

So it’s completely changed her views, her voting views. You know, it’s just amazing.

SPENCER MICHELS: For lay Catholic leader William May, the battle against same-sex marriages will continue if the Supreme Court allows them to go forward.

WILLIAM MAY: We will just have to keep — keep fighting. And, really, it’s — this is a matter of social justice.

SPENCER MICHELS: The court is expected to release its decision before the end of the month.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And online this month, we will have live coverage of the Supreme Court’s end-of-term decisions. On days justices issue opinions, we will carry SCOTUSblog’s reporting from inside the courtroom on our home page.