Prop. 8 in legal debacle

City College instructor R. Wood Massi (right) exchanges vows with Larry Brinkin. PHOTO COURTESY OF R. WOOD MASSI
City College instructor R. Wood Massi (right) exchanges vows with Larry Brinkin. PHOTO COURTESY OF R. WOOD MASSI

By Alex Emslie
STAFF WRITER

Legal challenges to the Proposition 8 statewide ban on same-sex marriages are currently before the California Supreme Court. The initiative could be struck down as unconstitutional, impacting the marriage rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It could be applied retroactively possibly nullifying approximately 18,000 same-sex marriages.

Arguments in the cases — Strauss v. Horton, Tyler v. State of California, and San Francisco City and County v. Horton — will be heard at 9 a.m. on March 5 at the Supreme Court of California in San Francisco.  The court is required to rule within 90 days of conducting hearings.

Bruce Smith, dean of liberal arts and the Castro/Valencia campus was married on July 3 at San Francisco City Hall, shortly after celebrating a 25 year anniversary with his spouse, Paul Castellano. “We’ve spent 25 years of our lives together building the same things that any other couple builds together,” Smith said. “It was just disheartening. It made me angry and resentful; all these kinds of bad emotions that you shouldn’t have about your fellow man,” he said on the passage of Proposition 8.

The petitioners challenging Proposition 8 state the initiative should be considered a constitutional revision rather than an amendment, as it was submitted to voters. Revisions require a two-thirds vote in California’s Congress to even appear on the ballot. The court has only twice ruled constitutional amendments to be illegal revisions, asserting an interest in defending the people’s right to change their constitution. The petitioners also argue Propostion 8 violates the authority of the Supreme Court by overturning the ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in May 2008. They will have one hour and thirty minutes to present their arguments on March 5.

In his 90-page response brief before the court, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown refused to defend Proposition 8. He urged the court to rule that the initiative violates the natural rights clause of the state’s constitution and disagrees with the legal arguments of the petitioners. He will argue both points before the court for 30 minutes.
City College student Amanda Riley commented on Proposition 8 via email. “I want to be able to marry my girlfriend someday if I choose to do so, just like anyone else,” Riley wrote. She went on to describe a recent incident at City College, “People were shouting ‘Yes on 8’ at us. Now we don’t only have to hear slurs that insult our sexuality, we get taunted by the fact that our rights have been stripped away as a result of it.”

“Almost every individual gay person struggles with his or her identity. When you have the public taking a vote on the validity of the love between two people, and you have individuals who are having trouble with their self identity, you’ve certainly made their lives far worse by having a public decree that their marriage is not valid. I think it does harm to our society, and I think it does harm to individuals,” Smith  said. “The majority should not rule on the rights of the minority.”

Krystal Bishop, a City College staff member at the Ocean campus Queer Resource Center agreed with Attorney General Brown.

“By banning same-sex marriages, [California] is basically telling straight people they have a privilege over us. That’s not every man, woman, or person being equal. That’s social hierarchy,” Bishop said.

Counsel for the Official Proponents of Proposition 8 filed a brief in response to Brown’s brief, claiming natural rights arguments were “utterly without foundation in this Court’s case law.” They also called for Proposition 8 to be applied retroactively.  Kenneth Starr and co-counsel Andrew Pugno, argue the plain language of Proposition 8 leaves no room for 18,000 exceptions in the form of same-sex marriages conducted before the passage of the proposition. Proponents are scheduled to argue last at the hearing for one hour.

“Plainly, even if Proposition 8 is upheld as a valid constitutional amendment, its retroactive application to existing marriages would, at the very least, raise significant issues under the United States Constitution,” Brown said.

“The idea that there would be a right granted and then taken away; that seems very, very cruel. Certainly harsh beyond what would be appropriate in a society where one can expect any compassion from one’s peers,” said Ms. Bob Davis, City College’s Transgender advocacy and outreach coordinator and adviser for the Queer Resource Center.

The Law Offices of Andrew Pugno, official proponents of Proposition 8, Campaign for California Families and The Knights of Columbus were unavailable to comment on this story.

The meticulous process of  Supreme Court law concerning Proposition 8 will continue until June at the latest. More information concerning these Supreme Court proceedings, including legal briefs in their entirety, can be found at http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/courts/supreme/highprofile/prop8.htm.