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Prop. 8 battle rages on

Lawyers lay down pro and con arguments

Posted: March 6, 2009 12:57 a.m.
Updated: March 6, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Gay rights advocates and Proposition 8 proponents dueled in the streets of San Francisco with signs and slogans Thursday, while inside the California Supreme Court, lawyers for each side of the gay-marriage debate laid down their respective legal arguments.

The Supreme Court weighed whether Proposition 8 was a denial of fundamental rights or within what one justice called the people's "very broad powers" to amend the state Constitution.

Proposition 8 passed Nov. 4 and banned gay marriages. The proposition passed with 52 percent of the vote and overturned the state Supreme Court's May 15, 2008, decision to overrule the original ban on same-sex marriage passed in 2000.

Minutes into Thursday's proceedings, the justices peppered National Center for Lesbian Rights lawyer Shannon Minter with tough questions over how the 14 words of Proposition 8 represent a revision of California's Constitution or a denial of fundamental rights.

Chief Justice Ron George asked what rights were lost other than being able to label their union as a marriage.

"Relegating same-sex couples to domestic partnership does not provide them with everything but a word," Minter said. "It puts those couples in a second-class status" Minter said.

Minter's words resonate with Carole Lutness, chairwoman for the 38th Assembly Committee of the Democratic Party. She recalls her first teaching job during Jim Crowe in Virginia.

The all-black school received limited funding from the state, which meant fewer supplies and disparity in education when compared to white schools, she said. "The whole concept of separate but equal doesn't work. It can't work," Lutness said.

California Assemblyman Cameron Smyth supported Proposition 8's passage and doesn't believe the state Supreme Court will overturn the gay marriage ban.

"In this case the measure was written to pass constitutional scrutiny," Smyth said.

Kenneth Starr, who garnered attention for his role in the President Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, presented the pro-Proposition 8 argument to the State Supreme Court.

Starr said that gay couples still enjoy the full "panoply of rights" of domestic partners.

Blue said there was more at stake than that.

"This would give those five (gay) couples the death penalty," Malcom Blue said.

Blue, who attended five same-sex marriages in 2008, said it's not just about whether gay people have the right to marry. The marital status of the more than 18,000 same-sex marriages between the May 15, 2008, state Supreme Court decision and the end of 2008 are in jeopardy, he said.

At least three justices appeared skeptical that the proposition could be applied retroactively.

George suggested the validity of the earlier marriages was purposely omitted from Proposition 8 as a campaign strategy to increase the likelihood of its passage.

The Supreme Court's seven justices have 90 days after the oral arguments in which to issue a ruling.

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