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Calif. high court invalidates San Fran.’s same-sex ‘marriages’

SAN FRANCISCO (BP)–The California Supreme Court voided San Francisco’s same-sex “marriages” Aug. 12 and said that city officials had no authority to issue the licenses.

In a unanimous 7-0 decision, the justices ruled that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom had no authority to violate state laws that define marriage as between one man and one woman. In addition, in a 5-2 vote the justices ruled that the 4,000 licenses the city issued to homosexual couples should be declared void from their inception.

The court even went so far as to tell the city to offer the same-sex couples refunds for the cost of the licenses.

“[T]he city officials had no authority to refuse to perform their ministerial duty in conformity with the current California marriage statutes on the basis of their view that the statutory limitation of marriage to a couple comprised of a man and a woman is unconstitutional,” California Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert M. George wrote for the majority.

If every public official in the state enforced the laws based solely on their personal beliefs, George asserted, “the enforcement of statutes would become haphazard” and would lead to “confusion and chaos.”

“[G]ranting every public official the authority to disregard a ministerial statutory duty on the basis of the official’s opinion that the statute is unconstitutional would be fundamentally inconsistent with our political system’s commitment to John Adams’ vision of a government where official action is determined not by the opinion of an individual officeholder — but by the rule of law,” George wrote.

Newsom had argued that California marriage laws violated the state constitution, and that by not issuing the marriage licenses, he himself was violating his oath to uphold the constitution. But the court disagreed.

The court did not address the much broader question of the legality of same-sex “marriage” in California. Cases seeking legalization are making their way up the court system and likely will end up before the same justices someday.

Pro-family groups praised the ruling. Joshua Carden of the Alliance Defense Fund — a group involved in the case — said the ruling is another example that “same-sex marriage is not inevitable.” Carden said the ruling was “exactly what we had hoped for.”

“This decision sent a clear 7-0 message that public officials are not allowed to defy the law, that we have an order system, we have a rule-of-law system,” Carden told Baptist Press. “… It’s legislators and people that make laws, and public officials are not allowed to ignore them at their whim.”

The court case was sparked when Newsom and city officials began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in February. The court subsequently halted the city’s actions, and the justices heard oral arguments in May.

During oral arguments, the justices directed their toughest comments and questions at the San Francisco city attorney. Following oral arguments court-watchers expected the justices to rule against the city. However, it was unclear what the court would do with the 4,000 marriage licenses that had been issued. Homosexual activists were hoping that — at a minimum — the court would not address the validity of the licenses.

But a majority of the court — five justices — ruled that the licenses must be voided.

“From a practical perspective,” George wrote for the majority, “we believe it would not be prudent or wise to leave the validity of these marriages in limbo for what might be a substantial period of time given the potential confusion (for third parties, such as employers, insurers, or other governmental entities, as well as for the affected couples) that such an uncertain status inevitably would entail.”

The two dissenting justices argued that the court should not address the validity of the licenses.

“That determination,” Associate Justice Joyce Kennard wrote, “should be made after the constitutionality of California laws restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples has been authoritatively resolved through judicial proceedings now pending in the courts of California.”

But Carden said the court made the right decision.

“[Chief Justice George] spells it out very clearly that they have to have an appropriate remedy to avoid this kind of thing in the future — that they needed to invalidate the licenses and declare them void from their very inception, because the actions in issuing them were also illegal,” Carden said.

Both sides combed the 81-page majority ruling, searching for hints as to how the court might rule in a case seeking same-sex “marriage” legalization. The court, though, gave few, if any, hints.

But in one instance pro-family groups hope is an indication, the court quoted a 1949 California ruling and said, “… it is well settled in California that ‘the Legislature has full control of the subject of marriage and may fix the conditions under which the marital status may be created or terminated.'” The court went on to show that the legislature has defined marriage in the traditional sense. The assertion that state legislatures have authority over marriage law has been one of the key arguments by pro-family leaders.

The ruling Aug. 12 involved two cases — Lockyer v. City & County of San Francisco and Lewis v. Alfaro.
For more information about the national debate over same-sex “marriage,” visit

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  • Michael Foust