Calif. legislature supports gay-marriage challenge

SACRAMENTO — Both houses of the state Legislature passed resolutions Monday endorsing the legal effort to overturn California’s same-sex marriage ban, just days before the issue goes to the state Supreme Court.

The resolutions passed along party lines, 18-14 in the Senate and 45-27 in the Assembly, with several members absent in both chambers.

Supporters of the resolutions said Proposition 8 should not have been placed on the November ballot through the initiative process. They said it represented a revision to the state constitution because it stripped away existing rights, arguing that only the Legislature can place such revisions before voters.

“We’re talking about a radical revision to our constitution,” said Sen. Mark Leno, the San Francisco Democrat who sponsored the Senate resolution. “Do we have a constitutional democracy in California or do we have mob rule, where a majority of Californians can change the constitution at any time?”

He equated it to the fight for racial equality decades ago. He noted that in 1964, voters overwhelmingly approved a measure that would have allowed landlords to discriminate against renters based on race.

Prop. 8 passed with 52 percent of the vote. By amending the state constitution, it overturned a California Supreme Court decision last year that legalized same-sex marriage. It was the second time California voters have said marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Between the Supreme Court’s decision last spring and the November election, about 18,000 gay couples married.

The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday on lawsuits that seek to overturn Prop. 8. The lawsuits argue that the initiative was enacted improperly and is itself unconstitutional because it singles out a minority group for discrimination.

Opponents said the initiative was a constitutional amendment and properly placed on the ballot.

“Voters did speak,” said Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster), who opposed the measure. “They spoke from their hearts, from their minds. And for me, I’ve got to respect that.”

Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine) also opposed the Assembly resolution, saying it would send the state down a slippery slope. If the state allows gay marriage, DeVore said, it would have to allow polygamy because it could be argued as a First Amendment right.

“If you proceed down this path, you will open Pandora’s box,” he said.

The resolutions in each house were identical. They do not require action by the governor but merely express the intent of the Legislature — in this case to support the legal arguments against Prop. 8.

Andrew Pugno, an attorney for the Yes on 8 campaign, said the resolutions will have no bearing on the legal case. The court, he said, will focus solely on the arguments before it.

“This is simply a political drill, but the court knows that this is not a popularity contest,” Pugno said of Monday’s action in the Legislature. “All that matters is the law.”

Leno, who introduced the Senate resolution, said it was proper for the Legislature to act for legal reasons, as well as to express its objections to discrimination against same-sex couples.

The court’s ruling will set a precedent that will specify when constitutional revisions must come through lawmakers, he said.

But Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, said the court was not likely to take lawmakers’ opinion into consideration. Because of gerrymandered legislative districts, he said the Legislature does not accurately reflect the will of the people.

“If Proposition 8 is overturned, it’s essentially gutting the people’s authority to amend the constitution,” Brown said.