Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A Supreme Morning for Marriage Equality


Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and State Assembly Member Mark Leno welcomed about 200 LGBT community leaders at the San Francisco Main Library this morning to watch the historic final oral arguments as California same-sex couples asked the State Supreme Court to strike down the state law that bans lesbians and gay men from marriage.

The hearing in front of the State Supreme Court (unfolding just a few blocks away at the Court House) was broadcast live on the California Cable channel across the state. The crowd at the library was on the edge of their seats for a solid ninety minutes as out lesbian attorney Therese Stewart (San Francisco’s Chief Deputy City Attorney) and out trans-man Shannon Minter (NCLR’s lead attorney) offered their passionate, well-spoken pleas.

They were followed by an abysmal performance by the opposition as Deputy Attorney General Christopher Krueger gave a weakly articulated and often stuttering defense that was frequently interrupted by the impatient justices, with Justice Joyce Kennard in particular harpooning his emphasis on “tradition” as a basis for continuing discrimination.

The crowd at the library alternately cheered the home team and hissed the opposition with the fervor of a Super Bowl crowd at a sports bar.

Clocking in at three hours and 45 minutes, the riveting and historic hearing appeared to bode well for a positive decision with even the conservative justices appearing to reflect some level of sympathy (if only due to the poorly presented cases of Krueger et al).

There were moments of humor peppered throughout the morning, with Chief Justice Ronald George quipping at one point, "It all boils down to the M word, doesn't it?"

But the most entertaining figure of the day was clearly Justice Joyce Kennard. With her verbose but astute remarks and sharp rhetorical banter she emerged as the new heroic ally along the lines of SF City Assessor Mabel Teng who championed the Winter of Love marriages at City Hall in 2004.

As the plaintiffs finished arguments and the opponents began, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom dashed in for a quick pep talk to the crowd. Fending off a standing ovation, Newsom was brief and impassioned. "The truth inevitably is: We will win.” he proclaimed. “The only question is: When."

Stewart and Minter were equally eloquent in their closing arguments with Minter paraphrasing Shakespeare, saying:

“We’re here to praise marriage, not to bury it.”

A ruling is due within 90 days.