Same-sex marriage opponents ask court for five-month delay
SAN FRANCISCO – A conservative legal group asked the California Supreme Court on Thursday to stay its decision legalizing same-sex marriage until voters got a chance to weigh in on the issue.
The Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund wants the ruling stayed until November, when voters are likely to encounter a ballot measure that would amend the state’s constitution to ban gay marriage. That amendment would overturn the justices’ ruling.
In court papers submitted late Thursday, the group warned that the state would suffer “great public harm and mischief” if the state commenced allowing same-sex marriages June 16, when the court’s decision ordinarily would become final.
ADF attorneys also said implementing the ruling in the meantime would be an unnecessary expense for the state and cause unnecessary confusion for couples.
“Permitting this decision to take effect immediately – in light of the realistic possibility that the people of California might amend their constitution to reaffirm marriage as the union of one man and one woman – risks legal havoc and uncertainty of immeasurable magnitude,” the attorneys wrote in the petition.
Many couples started planning weddings and making appointments to secure marriage licenses immediately after the justices overturned the state’s gay marriage ban May 15.
A cloud of uncertainty lingers over the pending unions, however. A coalition of religious and social conservative groups is in the process of putting a measure on the November ballot that would write a gay-marriage ban into the state constitution.
County clerks have until June 18 to verify the signatures needed to qualify the amendment for the election, according to the Alliance Defense Fund. A preliminary count by 37 counties indicates that the initiative has an extremely high chance of being put to voters, the group said in its petition.
ADF attorneys asked the Supreme Court either to hold a hearing on when its decision should take effect or to amend it to prevent it from being implemented for now.
“The people of California have a constitutional right to vote on marriage, and we trust the high court will respect the democratic process,” said Alliance Defense Fund Senior Counsel Glen Lavy, who argued for maintaining the state’s one-man, one-woman marriage laws before the court.
Among the logistical nightmares the attorneys predicted are counties scheduling different start dates based on their ability to create new, gender-neutral marriage licenses and the question of whether marriages sanctioned during the five-month window would be annulled if the amendment passes.
The court majority did not give a deadline for county clerks to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But it directed state officials “to take all actions necessary to effectuate our ruling, including requiring county marriage clerks to carry out their duties “in a manner consistent with the decision of this court.”
The Alliance Defense Fund is representing the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund, a California group that is part of the coalition spearheading the proposed amendment. Approving a temporary stay, ADF argued, is justified until voters have the chance to decide the fate of marriage in California in November.
“At that point, the people of California will have definitively expressed their will on the issue of marriage, and that oft-debated issue will be settled once and for all in this state – settled by the proper voice in a constitutional democratic government, i.e. the people,” the petition states.
Justices have until June 16 to consider ADF’s petition, according to Jennifer Pizer, an attorney with the gay rights legal group Lambda Legal. They also could grant themselves an additional 60 days to assess it, Pizer said.
Pizer, who is planning an October wedding, said that even if the stay request results in delays, gay and lesbian couples should be heartened by the Supreme Court victory.
“What’s critical in all of this is society generally and those of us who are affected most urgently have to recognize that we have momentous, joyous moments of breakthrough, but the process of social and legal change proceeds step by step,” she said.