By Rivka Israel, Esq. Marcus Family Law Center, PLC
(originally published in Lavender Lens, 11-08)
In my prior article I began with the statement “Now that marriage is possibly on the horizon…” The reason for my careful phrasing has now become clear. Between the time of the Supreme Court ruling in May and the “amendment” to the California constitution earlier this month, I and many other attorney’s were recommending that same-sex couples register as DP’s in addition to marrying. This was aimed at protecting the legal rights of couples and their families the validity of whose marriages would be in question if proposition 8 passed.
The Prop 8 issue has been on everyone’s minds. Why it passed and why it is so wrong? Why shouldn’t such a law pass by majority vote in a democracy? What effect, if any, does it have or is it only a ‘feel good’ issue with no real legal or social effect? Though many same-sex couples are not interested in getting married, everyone, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation should be interested in the potential civil rights ramification of the legitimacy of such an “amendment” to our constitution.
Our system and our laws are designed to afford equal rights to everyone and to protect minorities from the oppression of the majority. This is one of the basic foundations that make our country so great. Here in California, there are two distinct procedures for making changes to our constitution. These procedures reflect the seriousness of the change. A change that is relatively minor and does not effect substantive rights is considered an amendment and can pass by way of obtaining sufficient signatures and then passing by majority vote. A change to the constitution that has a more profound effect, such as one which eliminates the fundamental rights of a minority group, must first be presented to both legislative houses and pass by a 2/3rds vote before being submitted to the voters. In addition, enforcement of equal protection is placed in the hands of the judiciary. The issue of people’s rights is not left to the majority. If the rights of an entire minority group can be eliminated by a simple majority vote, just think what other 1discriminatory laws can be enacted by a majority vote.
In May the Supreme Court concluded that 1) gay and lesbian citizens are a protected class of minority entitled to heightened protection and 2) marriage is a fundamental right under the due process and equal protection clauses of our state Constitution. The Supreme Court has now agreed to hear the matter of the legality of the amendment and its effects in the context of several cases filed after the election.
The issues which the Court will address are: 1) Is proposition 8 a revision rather than an amendment of the state Constitution? 2) Does proposition 8 violate the separation of powers doctrine of the state Constitution? & 3) If the proposition is constitutional, what effect will it have on the same-sex marriages performed before the adoption of the amendment? As a family law practitioner, I believe that the third issue is the most important on an individual basis, as it will determine many of the rights of these couples, relating to issues such as custody and property. Argument on the case is anticipated to take place in March of 2009.
Rivka Israel is an attorney with the Marcus Family Law Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.