California made history again today. In a 4-3 vote, the state’s highest court ruled that gay and lesbian couples should be granted legal rights to marriage. The case stems from a challenge in 2004, when history was first made by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.
Newsom had ordered the city to issue marriage licenses to thousands of same-sex couples, but the high court invalidated an estimated 4,000 marriages some six months later, because the legality of the underlying law had not been properly challenged. This case directly, and successfully, challenged the law that excluded same-sex couples from civil marriage.
“The California Supreme Court did what was right, and that is to give everyone — regardless of sexual orientation — the fundamental right to civil marriage,” said NOW President Kim Gandy. “This decision will allow thousands and thousands of committed couples to be legally married in the highest populated state in our country, joining ground-breaking couples in Massachusetts who are demonstrating every day that the dire predictions and fear-mongering of equal marriage opponents was just that,” said Gandy.
NOW congratulates activists in California and all around the country who have fought tirelessly on behalf of equal marriage, as well as those who will be affected directly and indirectly by this decision. One of those couples is long time NOW member and activist, Robin Tyler, and her partner Diane Olson, who were one of the original couples who filed the lawsuit on Feb. 24, 2004 because they were denied a marriage license.
NOW also salutes pioneering lesbian rights activists and NOW members Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, who became the first same-sex couple in San Francisco and in the United States to have their marriage recognized by a government entity. Originally, Mayor Newsom married the couple, but their marriage was invalidated. The California Supreme Court’s decision is welcome news for Del and Phyllis, who have been together for 55 years. NOW presented the couple with a Women of Courage Award at NOW’s Lesbian Rights Summit in 1999.
“The right to civil marriage for same-sex couples is an essential step on the road to full equality,” Gandy said. “Every person, regardless of their sexual orientation, deserves access to the more than a thousand legal protections and benefits in state and federal law that legal marriage brings,” said Gandy.