In the building where San Francisco began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples almost exactly eight years ago, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Mayor Ed Lee and other city leaders responded to today’s ruling that California’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

“Every so often we get a court ruling that reaffirms our faith in the judicial system and in our constitution,” Supervisor Scott Wiener, one of the four members of the board’s LGBT caucus, said at a news conference in City Hall.

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gay_cityhall_gavel.jpgIn the building where San Francisco began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples almost exactly eight years ago, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Mayor Ed Lee and other city leaders responded to today’s ruling that California’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

“Every so often we get a court ruling that reaffirms our faith in the judicial system and in our constitution,” Supervisor Scott Wiener, one of the four members of the board’s LGBT caucus, said at a news conference in City Hall.

Shortly before 10 a.m. today, a three-member panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit of Appeals issued a ruling in which the panel, by a 2-1 vote, determined that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.

California voters narrowly approved the initiative in 2008, with 52 percent of voters favoring the ban.

Today’s ruling does not allow same-sex marriages to resume immediately. The appeals court said its decision will be on hold until it issues a formal mandate, which gives the initiative’s sponsors time to appeal and seek a stay from either the full 9th Circuit or the Supreme Court.

Of the appeals court panel, Herrera said, “Their thorough and well-reasoned decision reveals marriage discrimination for what it is: discrimination.”

Lee tied the city’s struggle to the Chinese New Year. “This is the Year of the Dragon,” Lee said. “The Year of the Dragon means that you have to confront your challenges.”

Today’s decision, Wiener said, is reason for celebration–celebration that will get under way this evening in the city’s Castro District–but he added that the battle is not over.

“We have to see this through to the very end when we have marriage equality for every single person in this country, across the land,” Weiner said.

It was in City Hall in 2004 that then-Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and that the city and county of San Francisco became the first government in the country to sue to strike down marriage laws discriminating against same-sex partners.

Although San Francisco was the first, it wasn’t the last.

Over the next six years, Herrera said, two dozen other cities and counties representing more than 17 million Californians affirmed their support of same-sex marriage rights.

Today, six states and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

Herrera, who called today’s decision “another brick in the wall, another step in the process” for marriage equality, said his outlook on the fight for marriage equality remains optimistic.

“We’ve been dealing with this for eight years. There’s been a lot of ups and downs. And there has been frustration that we’ve had to wait eights years, because justice delayed is justice denied,” he said. “But we also have to look at progress that has been made in that time.”

The city issued about 4,000 licenses between Feb. 12 and March 11, 2004, when the state high court halted the practice. The court later ruled that the city had no authority to issue the licenses but said it was willing to allow separate proceedings to test the constitutionality of the state laws.

This set off a multi-year battle in the state court system.

In May 2008, a decision handed down by the California Supreme Court overturned provisions in state legislation that limited marriage to unions of a man and a woman. At the time, the historic decision made California the second state in the nation, after Massachusetts, to allow gays and lesbians to marry.

The victory for same-sex marriage proponents was short-lived.

Four months later, in November 2008, voters passed Proposition 8, which the California Supreme Court upheld in May 2009.

Days before that state Supreme Court decision, a federal lawsuit filed in San Francisco by a lesbian couple from Berkeley and a gay couple from Burbank changed the focus to the federal, rather than the state, constitution.

The lawsuit claimed that Proposition 8 violates the couple’s federal constitutional rights to due process and equal treatment by denying them the right to marry.

In August 2010, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco struck down Proposition 8, saying that it violated those rights. Today’s ruling upheld that decision.

At a news conference in Sacramento late this morning, Newsom, who is now California’s lieutenant governor, likened the battle over same-sex marriage to past struggles to overcome racial discrimination.

“This is the one last big piece of the civil rights struggle,” he said.

He said the court battles have highlighted the “human toll” of not allowing gays and lesbians to wed.

“I think fundamentally what’s happened since 2004 is that a human face has been put on discrimination as it relates to marriage equality in this country,” Newsom said.

Despite split opinions on same-sex marriage in many parts of the U.S., Newsom said he thinks people’s views are changing. He used his father, former state appeals court judge William Newsom, as an example.

“I love my father dearly,” he said. “He’s come around on this. I think he marks a lot of similar evolution of thought.”

Current-mayor Lee, who was city administrator at the time San Francisco first allowed same-sex marriage, said the issue is about more than just couples and individual families–it’s about the city family.

“We felt … that we were on the right side of history for so many years,” Lee said. “But we still had to fight the battle.”

Despite today’s ruling, same-sex couples will have to wait a little bit longer until the court makes a decision on the stay that is in place.

“We’re gonna have to wait and see what happens,” Herrera said.

In the meantime, preparations are already under way at City Hall to ensure, if and when the stay is lifted, that same-sex couples will readily have access to marriage licenses.

Lee said he has instructed the county clerk to get ready to process the marriages.

“Your constitutional rights shouldn’t have to wait,” Lee said.

“They really should not have to wait for everyone else to catch up.”

Patricia Decker, Bay City News

Elsewhere: Prop. 8 opponents hail ruling, await word on marriage [Ex]
For Prop 8, No Hollywood Endings [Slate]
Proposition 8 Case Faces Unclear Path Ahead [AP via HuffPo]
Why “Narrow” Prop 8 Decision is Good for Marriage Equality [BeyondChron]
Wise ruling against Prop. 8 [Chron]
Shaky grounds for Prop. 8 ruling [Chron]
Politicians Respond To Prop 8 Ruling Via Twitter [KRON]
Ruling against Proposition 8 a step toward allowing gay couples to marry [Golden Gate X-Press]
Gay marriage supporters react to ruling against Proposition 8 [Golden Gate X-Press]
The marriage decision, for better and for worse [SFBG]
Court Rules Prop 8 Unconstitutional [WSJ]
Prop. 8 Judges’ ‘Savvy’ Strategy [BC]
Mission Says Court Slow but Sure on Prop 8 [ML@L]
Calif. Politicians applaud, slam same-sex decision [Chron]
Prop. 8 decision: What the justices said [Chron]

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  • Tim Ryan

    good

  • Tim Ryan

    good