Calif. gay marriage argument heard, compared to interracial marriage ban
Pablo Martinez Monsivais, ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON A lawyer seeking an end to California's ban on same-sex marriage is comparing it to bans on interracial marriages, a prohibition the Supreme Court declared illegal decades ago.
In charged back-and-forth exchanges with justices, lawyer Theodore Olson said that the court should look to its 1967 Loving case, when the court invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage.
Chief Justice John Roberts told Olson that it seemed supporters of gay marriage were trying to change the meaning of the word "marriage" by including same-sex couples.
Justice Anthony Kennedy suggested that throwing out California's ban could take the Supreme Court into "uncharted waters." But Olson responded that the court did just that when it threw out bans on interracial marriage.
The Supreme Court waded into the fight over same-sex marriage at a time when public opinion is shifting rapidly in favor of permitting gay and lesbian couples to wed, but 40 states don't allow it.
The court's first major examination of gay rights in 10 years begins Tuesday with a hearing on California's ban on same-sex marriage. On Wednesday, the justices will consider the federal law that prevents legally married gay couples from receiving a range of benefits afforded straight married Americans.
Actor-director Rob Reiner, who helped lead the fight against California's Proposition 8, was at the head of line Tuesday morning. Some people waited since Thursday — even through light snow — for coveted seats for the argument.
Both sides of the case were represented outside the courthouse. Supporters of gay marriage came with homemade signs including ones that read "a more perfect union" and "love is love."
Among the opponents was retired metal worker Mike Krzywonos, 57, of Pawtucket, R.I. He wore a button that read "marriage 1 man + 1 woman" and said his group represents the "silent majority."
The two California couples challenging the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in the nation's largest state also are at the court for the argument and are urging the justices to strike down not just the California provision, but constitutional amendments and statutes in every state that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
They envision the 21st century equivalent of the court's 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia that struck down state bans on interracial marriages.
The Obama administration has weighed in on behalf of the challengers, following President Barack Obama's declaration of support for same-sex marriage last year and his invocation of gay rights at his inauguration in January.
Supporters of Proposition 8 say the court should respect the verdict of California voters who approved the ban in 2008 and let the fast-changing politics of gay marriage evolve on their own, through ballot measures and legislative action, not judicial decrees.
Same-sex marriage is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. The states are Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington.
Thirty states ban same-sex marriage in their state constitutions, while ten states bar them under state laws. New Mexico law is silent on the issue.
Polls have shown increasing support in the country for gay marriage. According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted in mid-March, 49 percent of Americans now favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, with 44 percent opposed.
The California case is being argued 10 years to the day after the court took up a challenge to Texas' anti-sodomy statute. That case ended with a forceful ruling prohibiting states from criminalizing sexual relations between consenting adults.
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