Wedding bells could be ringing for same-sex couples in San Francisco and across California as soon as the holidays, depending on how the U.S. Supreme Court responds to an appeals case for the state’s gay marriage ban later this month.
In February, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco affirmed a lower court ruling that 2008’s voter-approved Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. Proponents of the same-sex marriage ban then took the case to the high court, which could rule as early as Nov. 30 on whether to take up the matter.
If federal justices decide not to hear the case — thus leaving the issue in the realm of individual states — the 9th Circuit ruling would effectively become the law of the land in California. Alternatively, the court could decide to make a more definitive federal ruling on the issue, which would take months more to be settled.
Interestingly enough, many local couples said they would prefer the quicker but less definitive resolution.
“I suspect we will be in line at the courthouse that day,” said Thom Watson, 50, of Daly City.
Watson and his fiance, Jeff Tobaco, said while they could have obtained a legal marriage in another state, it’s important to them to make their vows close to home.
“We’ve been waiting ever since Prop. 8 first passed, and given that the state had already overturned some marriages previously, we didn’t want to be in that situation,” Watson said. “There’s a symbolic importance to have marriage recognized here in the state we’ve chosen to make our home.”
Stuart Gaffney, one of the two plaintiffs in the original 2008 state Supreme Court challenge of Prop. 8, said celebrations would ignite in The City’s Castro neighborhood if the 9th Circuit ruling stands. Although it could take the appeals court a few days to finalize its ruling, Gaffney said some couples plan to exchange symbolic vows that would be legally finalized soon thereafter.
“It has been a very long wait for many couples who simply want to say ‘I do,’” Gaffney said.
But Gaffney cautioned that justices could also delay a decision, leaving the situation in limbo. Anti-Prop. 8 attorney David Boies recently predicted a U.S. Supreme Court hearing that ends in a 5-4 decision affirming same-sex marriage rights, but some eager couples would like to see the situation in California rectified sooner than later.
With three states having passed voter-approved same-sex marriage laws in the recent election, the momentum should be built up more before a federal ruling, Watson contends.
“I think right now there are better paths than the Supreme Court for this decision,” Watson said. “It makes it much more likely that once the right case makes it to the Supreme Court, we’ll have more states on board and right now, I don’t think the court is ready to make that decision.”