Gay marriage ruling likely appealed to U.S. Supreme Court
LOS ANGELES — California's turbulent relationship with gay marriage can be traced back eight years, almost to the day, when San Francisco abruptly began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. So many people showed up, they had to say their vows three and four couples at a time under the dome of City Hall, some in matching gowns and tuxedos, many spilling into the streets in buoyant celebration.
Those heady days only managed to produce a quagmire — a voter-approved gay-marriage ban; ceaseless legal battles; marriage licenses offered, then rescinded; a gay community whiplashed between joy and despair.
Over time, momentum seemed to pass California by. More than a dozen jurisdictions now recognize gay marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships that convey similar rights; and in the last two years, some polls have begun showing that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage rights.
But when a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Proposition 8 on Tuesday, it planted the flag of same-sex marriage — and, in no small measure, the gay rights movement itself — back in California.
In Sacramento, Gov. Jerry Brown said in a written statement, "The court has rendered a powerful affirmation of the right of same-sex couples to marry. I applaud the wisdom and courage of this decision."
The architects of Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that limited marriage to one man and one woman, are likely to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. But many legal analysts said the federal judges' forceful findings could resonate for years in both the legal debate and the national conversation about gay rights.
"California has once again made marriage history," said a beaming Stuart Gaffney outside the federal courthouse in San Francisco.
In recent years, California was not looking like a bellwether state when it came to gay marriage.
Gay-rights groups were stunned when California voters approved Proposition 8 in 2008. The vote followed an aggressive campaign by activists who argued that legalizing gay marriage would force the introduction of inappropriate material in schools and undermine heterosexual marriages. The campaign used a clip of then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom saying gay marriage would happen "whether you like it or not."
Since Proposition 8's passage, voters in one state after another have rejected gay marriage when the issue was put to a popular vote. Still, governments of six states and Washington, D.C., have allowed gay marriage. In a seventh state, Washington, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a same-sex marriage proposal Wednesday.
At the same time, several polls nationally and in California have found growing public support for gay marriage.
In 2008, the Field Poll found, for the first time, that a majority of Californians approved of legal same-sex marriage. In 2010, a CNN poll found a slim majority of Americans in favor of same-sex marriage — reportedly the first national poll to reach that conclusion. A year later, a Pew Research Center survey found that 46 percent of Americans supported gay marriage and 44 percent opposed it.
With Tuesday's ruling, however, the nation's most populous state could be "back in the business of marrying," said West Hollywood Mayor John J. Duran, where more than a third of residents are gay.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.