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Gay marriage in the balance as Supreme Court takes up Prop. 8

December 7, 2012 |  3:53 pm

Gay rights activists said the stakes were high as the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to decide the issue of gay marriage.

The high court will decide on the legality of Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex unions approved by California voters in 2008.

“I think any time our gay issues go to the U.S. Supreme Court we are all filled with anxiety because you never know," said West Hollywood City Councilman John  Duran.  "We have a lot of anxiety because we realize whatever decision they make, if it’s adverse, we have to live with it for a generation.”

MAP: How gay marriage has progressed in the U.S.

Gay marriage foes were decidedly more ebullient, saying they liked their chances in front of the high court.

“Arguing this case before the Supreme Court finally gives us a chance at a fair hearing, something that hasn’t been afforded to the people since we began this fight,” said Andy Pugno, general counsel for Protect Marriage.com.

Others said they would be on edge until the high court rules.

Q&A: Prop. 8, gay marriage and the Supreme Court

"No one cries at civil unions or a domestic partnership. No one cries at signing a document at the courthouse. They cry at weddings," said Dave Reynolds, 28, of Santa Monica, who married his husband in August in New York, where same-sex unions are legal.

Reynolds and his husband, JJ Shepherd, 31, first met as kids at summer camp. They would have preferred to get married in California, but they want to start a family with the legal protections a marriage license will grant them. The couple also wanted to tie the knot around the same age as their opposite-sex peers.

"We couldn't wait for California to do it," Reynolds said. His husband is an attorney, "so we know how long it was going to take."

TIMELINE: Gay marriage since 2000

By agreeing to review Hollingsworth vs. Perry, the justices could hand activists a historic victory and legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. But gay rights advocates are also well aware that the court could rule against them and set the movement back at a time when same-sex marriage has seen a series of election victories at the state level.

"I think it's the critical issue for gay and lesbian Americans today. It's the issue that signals full equality and respect. Not just acceptance -- respect," said Tom Watson, the board chairman of Love Honor Cherish, a group that has advocated for a ballot initiative to repeal Proposition 8.

"The case goes directly to the scope of civil rights in this country, whether they're extended to everybody or defined very narrowly," Watson said.

Watson, a Los Angeles attorney, said he expected the justices to take the case, though it was tough to predict how the conservative-leaning court might rule. He noted that the court asked the parties to address whether supporters of Proposition 8 have standing, or the right to defend the measure. Normally, state officials would defend a state law being scrutinized by the Supreme Court, but California's leaders have declined to do so.

If the court found that Proposition 8 supporters do not have standing, the justices would not have to rule on the merits of the case. Under those circumstances, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the measure is unconstitutional would stand and same-sex marriages could resume in California.

"It would be winning on a technicality," Watson said.

Because of the uncertainty, Watson said his group would continue to consider pushing forward with a 2014 ballot measure to repeal Proposition 8. Either way, he said, California's gay and lesbian couples are in for a frustrating wait.

"We have kids growing up with parents that don't have the legal protections that marriage gives," Watson said. "And, let's face it, people die."

Watson said someone had recently emailed his group asking whether his friends could get married. One member of the same-sex couple was in a hospice.

It pained Watson to send the answer: no.

Chi Chi LaRue, a 53-year-old West Hollywood resident, said he was "exhausted" by the ups and downs of the legal process. 

On Friday, when reached by The Times for comment just as he was landing in Las Vegas, he said he was caught off guard: "I don’t have anything to say because I can’t process it." 

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-- Ashley Powers and Matt Stevens

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