Relaymedia

Rule of Law Restored in California

Excerpts from yesterday’s ruling that nullified the 4,000 gay 'marriage' licenses and comments from pro-family leaders on the unanimous victory
( [email protected] ) Aug 13, 2004 06:25 PM EDT

Pro-family groups across the nation applauded yesterday’s California Supreme Court ruling that nullified and voided the four thousand gay ‘marriage’ licenses issued at the San Francisco City Hall earlier this year.

"Today the California Supreme Court fulfilled their duty by enforcing the law and nullifying the illegitimate marriage licenses handed out to thousands of same-sex couples exactly six months ago in San Francisco. Today's ruling reinforces once again that when one rogue mayor or any other elected official ignores the rule of law, they will be held accountable,” said the Family Research Council (FRC) president Tony Perkins.

"Over sixty percent of Californians voted to define marriage as the union between one man and one woman. Today the Court upheld the law as it is written and has set a shining example for courts across the nation," continued Perkins.

Pat Trueman, FRC’s Senior Legal Counsel, also lauded the decision, calling it a “sweeping defeat for all those seeking to use the courts to redefine marriage.”

"The Court unanimously ruled that the actions by Mayor Gavin Newsom to issue same-sex 'marriage' licenses were beyond his authority. This is a sweeping defeat for all those seeking to use the courts to redefine marriage,” said Trueman. "If they can't win in California, arguably one of the most liberal jurisdictions, they will have difficulty everywhere else they try. The court's precedent is now a major stumbling block for all those who want to redefine marriage."

As Trueman predicted, homosexual couples bitterly vowed to continue fighting for their “right” to marry. Many pro-homosexual groups held onto the latter part of the Supreme Court ruling, which emphasized that the question whether California’s prohibition on gay ‘marriages’ is constitutional remains.

“We emphasize that the substantive question of the constitutional validity of California's statutory provisions limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman is not before our court in this proceeding, and our decision in this case is not intended, and should not be interpreted, to reflect any view on that issue …. Should the applicable statutes be judicially determined to be unconstitutional in the future, same-sex couples then would be free to obtain valid marriage licenses and enter into valid marriages,” the decision stated.

The question of the constitutionality of the California law, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman only, was what San Francisco’s liberal mayor Gavin Newsom held onto when he began issuing the gay “marriage” licenses earlier in the year. Newsom argued that the 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.

The Justices shot down his claim unanimously.

In their 7-0 decision, the justices ruled that Newsom had no authority to violate state laws on his own whim.

"[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 added, "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," wrote George.

Joshua Carden of the Alliance Defense Fund, which filed the case, said the ruling is another example that "same-sex marriage is not inevitable."

"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 said. "… It's legislators and people that make laws, and public officials are not allowed to ignore them at their whim."

In addition to their ruling against the rebellious Newsom, the justices voted 5-2 to void the 4,000 gay ‘marriage’ certificates that had been in legal limbo since their issuance.

"From a practical perspective," Justice 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 Christian Coalition applauded this decision, calling it a rightful ruling against the ‘period of anarchy condoned by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’ earlier in the year.

“Christian Coalition applauds the commonsense decision by the California Supreme Court ruling 'null and void' the thousands of illegal homosexual 'marriages' during the period of anarchy condoned by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome earlier this year,” Roberta Combs, President of Christian Coalition, commented.

On the opposing side, the dissenting justices echoed the desires of the pro-gay advocates in saying 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."

Outside, dozens of homosexual couples that had received the invalidated licenses in February and March, protested around the city and yelled outside the courthouse for “equal rights.”

However, Carden clarified that from their very inception, those licenses violated the law and were illegal.

"[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.

Jordan Lorence, senior counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund, agreed, saying that the justices "restored the rule of law in California."

"The invalidating of the marriage licenses sends a very strong rebuke to the mayor that what he did was defy the law," Lorence said. "They said we cannot allow local officials to pick and choose which laws they follow."

The ruling Aug. 12 involved two cases -- Lockyer v. City & County of San Francisco and Lewis v. Alfaro.

The following are excerpts from Chief Justice Ronald M. George’s opinion for the majority; the full text, which is 81 pages long, can be viewed at www.latimes.com/ruling.

We assumed jurisdiction in these original writ proceedings to address an important but relatively narrow legal issue — whether a local executive official who is charged with the ministerial duty of enforcing a state statute exceeds his or her authority when, without any court having determined that the statute is unconstitutional, the official deliberately declines to enforce the statute because he or she determines or is of the opinion that the statute is unconstitutional.

In the present case, this legal issue arises out of the refusal of local officials in the City and County of San Francisco to enforce the provisions of California's marriage statutes that limit the granting of a marriage license and marriage certificate only to a couple comprised of a man and a woman.

The same legal issue and the same applicable legal principles could come into play, however, in a multitude of situations. For example, we would face the same legal issue if the statute in question were among those that restrict the possession or require the registration of assault weapons, and a local official, charged with the ministerial duty of enforcing those statutes, refused to apply their provisions because of the official's view that they violate the 2nd Amendment of the federal Constitution. In like manner, the same legal issue would be presented if the statute were one of the environmental measures that impose restrictions upon a property owner's ability to obtain a building permit for a development that interferes with the public's access to the California coastline, and a local official, charged with the ministerial duty of issuing building permits, refused to apply the statutory limitations because of his or her belief that they effect an uncompensated "taking" of property in violation of the just compensation clause of the state or federal Constitution.

Indeed, another example might illustrate the point even more clearly: the same legal issue would arise if the statute at the center of the controversy were the recently enacted provision (operative Jan. 1, 2005) that imposes a ministerial duty upon local officials to accord the same rights and benefits to registered domestic partners as are granted to spouses … and a local official — perhaps an officeholder in a locale where domestic partnership rights are unpopular — adopted a policy of refusing to recognize or accord to registered domestic partners the equal treatment mandated by statute, based solely upon the official's view (unsupported by any judicial determination) that the statutory provisions granting such rights to registered domestic partners are unconstitutional ….

As these various examples demonstrate, although the present proceeding may be viewed by some as presenting primarily a question of the substantive legal rights of same-sex couples, in actuality the legal issue before us implicates the interest of all individuals in ensuring that public officials execute their official duties in a manner that respects the limits of the authority granted to them as officeholders. In short, the legal question at issue — the scope of the authority entrusted to our public officials — involves the determination of a fundamental question that lies at the heart of our political system: the role of the rule of law in a society that justly prides itself on being "a government of laws, and not of men" (or women).

As indicated above, that issue — phrased in the narrow terms presented by this case — is whether a local executive official, charged with the ministerial duty of enforcing a statute, has the authority to disregard the terms of the statute in the absence of a judicial determination that it is unconstitutional, based solely upon the official's opinion that the governing statute is unconstitutional. As we shall see, it is well established, both in California and elsewhere, that — subject to a few narrow exceptions that clearly are inapplicable here — a local executive official does not possess such authority.

Accordingly, for the reasons that follow, we agree with petitioners that local officials in San Francisco exceeded their authority by taking official action in violation of applicable statutory provisions….

To avoid any misunderstanding, we emphasize that the substantive question of the constitutional validity of California's statutory provisions limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman is not before our court in this proceeding, and our decision in this case is not intended, and should not be interpreted, to reflect any view on that issue …. Should the applicable statutes be judicially determined to be unconstitutional in the future, same-sex couples then would be free to obtain valid marriage licenses and enter into valid marriages.