Same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The court’s 4‑to‑3 decision striking down state laws that had limited marriages to unions between a man and a woman makes California only the second state, after Massachusetts, to allow same-sex marriages. The decision, which becomes effective in 30 days, is certain to play a role in the presidential campaign.
“In view of the substance and significance of the fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship,” Chief Justice Ronald M. George wrote of marriage for the majority, “the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples.”
As Marty Lederman points out, the most legally consequential holding here is that discrimination on the basis of sexuality ought to be treated by the same legal standards as sexual or racial discrimination. The relevant passage:
Because sexual orientation, like gender, race, or religion, is a characteristic that frequently has been the basis for biased and improperly stereotypical treatment and that generally bears no relation to an individual’s ability to perform or contribute to society, it is appropriate for courts to evaluate with great care and with considerable skepticism any statute that embodies such a classification.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. There’s an attempt under way to put an initiative on the November ballot which would embed discrimination in the state Constitution; the Governator opposes it. He has also vetoed legislation passed several times which would have sanctioned marriage equality, so he’s no saint.