A California court's ruling that gay marriage is constitutional
in the state has given new fodder to both sides waging one of the
nation's most complex and emotional debates.
For supporters of gay marriage, the decision is a boost as they
press their cause in other states. Opponents of gay marriage,
meanwhile, have vowed to appeal this and other rulings, while also
planning to take their case to state legislatures.
Indeed right now, the nation's courts and the legislatures, in
general, have been deciding the legitimacy of gay marriage on
opposite tracks. The courts have tended to rule in favor of gay
couples, finding their rights are violated if they are not granted
the same protections and responsibilities as heterosexuals. At the
same, and often in response to such rulings, state legislatures, as
well as popular referendums, have voted to ban gay unions,
contending they are a threat to traditional marriage.
The intensity of the debate, combined with the relatively slow
way in which it's being resolved, is reflective of the way the
nation has dealt with controversial social issues in the past. For
instance, supporters of gay marriage point out that it was two
decades after a California court ruled a ban on interracial marriage
unconstitutional that the US Supreme Court concurred, in 1967.
For supporters of gay marriage, the parallel with the civil
rights movement is heartening. After all, it's been almost 15 years
since the Hawaii Supreme Court first ruled in favor of gay marriage.
Now lower courts in both New York and California have called on the
civil rights battles of the past to justify their rulings in favor
of gay marriage.
But opponents say that comparing gay marriage with the civil
rights movement is comparing apples and oranges. They believe the
rulings that forbade polygamy provide a better parallel.
Yet either way, scholars say past battles over deeply emotional
social issues provide a good road map for at least understanding the
current debate. "California is a bellwether state - it started the
no-fault divorce revolution," says Bill Duncan, director of the
Marriage Law Foundation in Provo, Utah, a legal-research nonprofit
organization opposed to gay marriage. "We are watching it very
In Monday's ruling, San Francisco County Superior Court Judge
Richard Kramer ruled that denying same-sex couples the right to
marry violated the equal-protection clause. …