Breaking News: CA Gay Marriages To Resume Next Week

Just a little over a week after the historic decision to overturn California’s marriage ban was issued, crowds assembled once more today in front of the federal courthouse in San Francisco to await a decision from Judge Vaughn Walker on when gay marriages can resume. When his ruling came down (PDF), it was another victory for marriage equality. As of next Wednesday, August 18, 5:00 p.m., the state will be free once more to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples.

Like last week’s ruling that emphatically declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional, Judge Walker’s decision today was clearly written and based on a transparent reading of the law and evidence. He states:

Because proponents fail to satisfy any of the factors necessary to warrant a stay, the court
denies a stay except for a limited time solely in order to permit the court of appeals to consider the issue in an orderly manner.

In deciding to lift the stay, Judge Walker considered four factors:

  1. Whether proponents have made a strong showing that they are likely to succeed on the merits;
  2. Whether proponents will be irreparably injured absent a stay;
  3. Whether the stay will substantially injure other interested parties; and
  4. Whether the stay is in the public interest.

He devotes several pages to addressing each factor in turn (worth reading in full). Here is my summary of his findings:

  • The Proponents were given a full and fair hearing in court; they could not make a case for denying same-sex couples the right to marry;
  • The Proponents will suffer no injury if same-sex couples are permitted to marry;
  • The Plaintiffs are injured by allowing Proposition 8 to stand because it prevents them from exercising their constitutionally protected right to marry; and
  • Since no public interest is served by Proposition 8, no interest could possibly be served by allowing it to remain in effect pending appeal.

Today’s ruling reiterates two key points made in the trial decision: Marriage is a fundamental right, and all evidence showed “that domestic partnership is an inadequate and discriminatory substitute for marriage.” To all of those moderate politicians who hope to mollify both sides by saying what, for example, President Obama says–that marriage is “between a man and a woman” (like some naughty bedroom secret), but that they support civil unions for same-sex couples–this trial has removed the fig leaf of phony tolerance.

Civil unions, Judge Walker has definitively ruled, accord second-class status to gay and lesbian citizens.

Lou Cannon opined in the New York Times that 2010 candidates who wish to sidestep this issue may be placed in an uncomfortable position if a flood of same-sex marriages stirs a strong anti-gay backlash.

While an abstract legal ruling, subject to appeal, may not bring conservatives out in droves for a candidate they don’t see as a true believer, a rush of same-sex marriages–and news media images of gays and lesbians at these ceremonies–could bring a backlash at the polls in November.

He presumes that the sight of blissfully happy citizens exercising their equal rights will offend conservative voters. But what if he’s wrong? What if images of same-sex couples getting married don’t freak people out? Call me optimistic, but it’s possible that viewers might be won over by seeing representations of gays and lesbians associated with love and joy.

The truth is, most Americans–and many conservatives–don’t want the government telling them how to set up their households or arrange their daily lives. As the pro-Prop 8 legal team said in opposing the stay:

Suspending [these marriages would] prevent this Nation from fulfilling the founding principle of ‘equal human dignity’ and stop us from becoming “more American.”

The other side will appeal to block the marriages. But for now, we can celebrate the ongoing march of history toward a more just society–by, on August 18, striking up a “Wedding March.”

Photo courtesy of Stefano Bolognini // CC 3.0


Audrey Bilger is the current president of Reed College, and previously served as vice president and dean of Pomona College. She is also a former professor of literature at Claremont McKenna College and faculty director of the Center for Writing and Public Discourse. She also teaches gender studies, and occasionally yoga. Her latest book, which she co-edited with Michele Kort, is Here Come the Brides! Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage (Seal Press, 2012). She is also the author of Laughing Feminism, editor of an edition of Jane Collier’s 1753 satire "An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting," and a frequent contributor to Bitch magazine. Her work has been featured in The Paris Review, Rockrgrl, the Huffington Post and the Women's Media Center.