Monday, March 14, 2005

"... no rational purpose..." - California Gay Marriage Ban Struck Down

A state judge in California declares a ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

The New York Times reports:

Judge Richard A. Kramer of San Francisco Superior Court held, in an opinion that will surely be appealed, that "no rational purpose exists for limiting marriage in this state to opposite-sex partners."

While many aspects of history, culture and tradition are properly embedded in the law, Judge Kramer wrote, the prohibition against same-sex marriage is not. "The state's protracted denial of equal protection cannot be justified simply because such constitutional violation has become traditional," he wrote.
Divorced from the emotional arguments on either side of the issue, the logic of this ruling is elegant in its simplicity.

At its core, the argument over same-sex marriage boils down to this question: are gay and lesbian Americans fully American? That is to say, regardless of their sexual orientation, should homosexuals enjoy the full rights of citizenship enjoyed by heterosexuals. The only way to justify banning gay marriage is to argue that they do not, and then to demonstrate the societal advantages of denying full citizenship to gays and lesbians and the harms of allowing it.

According to the Times story, although without articulating it precisely this way, Judge Kramer addresses the question of equal rights within the context of non-marriage civil unions.

"The idea that marriage-like rights without marriage is adequate smacks of a concept long rejected by the courts: separate but equal," he wrote, alluding to the doctrine long used to justify racial segregation that the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1954 had no place in public schools.

The judge also dismissed the state's argument that marriage has long been recognized as existing primarily for the sake of producing children. Judge Kramer said it was an "obvious natural and social reality that one does not have to be married in order to procreate, nor does one have to procreate in order to be married."
Opponents of same-sex marriage will certainly attack and/or dismiss the ruling as the work of an "activist judge" in the modern-day Sodom of San Francisco. However, those who support bans on same-sex marriage still bear the burden of explaining the concrete societal harm of allowing full marriage rights to gays and lesbians, as well as the societal advantage of denying them.