The following editorial appeared in The Sacramento Bee on Wednesday, May 27:

For the third time in five years, the California Supreme Court ruled Tuesday on the question of same-sex marriage. This time, the court upheld the voters’ right to limit the definition of marriage to a union between one man and one woman.

The court’s decision rested on the majority’s judgment that Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot was not a fundamental revision to the constitution of the kind that could only be proposed by the Legislature or a constitutional convention.

Instead, the court found, the ban on gay marriage was a mere amendment, and one the people were entirely within their rights to enact.

Despite the stakes for individuals, couples and society, the change did not significantly alter the structure of California government, the court ruled.

“Same-sex couples continue to enjoy the same substantive core benefits as those enjoyed by opposite-sex couples, including the constitutional right to enter into an officially recognized and protected family relationship with the person of one’s choice and to raise children in that family if the couple so chooses – with the sole, albeit significant, exception that the designation of ‘marriage’ is, by virtue of the new state constitutional provision, now reserved for opposite-sex couples,” the court found.

The court’s ruling is disappointing to the millions of Californians who, as we do, support the right of same-sex couples to marry and enjoy the full status, not just the rights and responsibilities, of opposite-sex couples who choose to have their unions blessed by the state.

But Tuesday’s decision in no way ends the debate. It simply returns it to the people and to the democratic process. And as painful as it might be to accept the court’s decision today, in the long run, it might be for the best.

Public opinion polling suggests a generation gap exists on the question of marriage. Generally speaking, older people tend to oppose gay marriage while younger people tend to be more supportive. Many young people we know have grown up in a world where sexual orientation is hardly an issue, and denying gays the right to marry seems downright strange to them.

These young voters, over time, will become the majority of the electorate. Supporters of gay marriage will place a measure on the ballot to give same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexuals. And whether it happens next year or later, we’re confident that, one day soon, Proposition 8 will be repealed.

When it is, gay marriage opponents will be unhappy. But their disappointment probably won’t be as deep as it would have been if the Supreme Court had struck down the ballot measure they just passed. And as time moves on, society is more likely to accept gay marriage, and gays in general, if the change comes from the people rather than from the courts.

California’s constitution makes it clear that in this state, the people are supreme. In this case, the people overruled the highest court in the state, and that court has now stepped aside and acknowledged the people’s right to do so.

But it is also within the right of the people to overrule themselves, and we believe on this issue, they will do so.

It is just a matter of time.


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