West Law Report

Discrimination of sexual orientation in California

Posted in Same-sex marriage, sexual orientation discrimination by mrkooenglish on May 17, 2008

Kenji Yoshino, the Yale law professor, wrote in Slate explaining that “why the California Supreme Court did more than legalize gay marriage”.

He compared the opinions of Massachusetts and California:

The Massachusetts opinion of 2003 will always have the fame of a first mover. In it, the state high court found that the exclusion of gays from marriage deprived them of both liberty and equality rights protected under the state constitution. The California Supreme Court came to the same conclusion, but in terms that have more legal bite and greater political consequence.

The legal difference between the two opinions lies in the so-called “rational basis” review used by the Massachusetts court and the “strict scrutiny” deployed by the California Court. In constitutional parlance, these terms describe how closely a court will examine state legislation: will it give the legislature the benefit of the doubt, or not? Rational basis review is so lenient that it almost always results in the validation of state policies (in this sense, the 2003 Massachusetts ruling was an aberration), while strict scrutiny is so stringent that it almost always results in the invalidation of such policies. In other words, the standards supposedly only express how closely the court will look at laws, but looks can kill.

And he looked closer to the writing of Judge George:

Chief Justice Ronald M. George first found that the exclusion of gays from marriage violated their fundamental right to marry, thereby drawing strict scrutiny from the court. This meant that the state would have to produce a compelling reason to bar gays from what the court deemed “the most socially productive and individually fulfilling relationship that one can enjoy in the course of a lifetime.” In a crucial move, Chief Justice George rejected the state’s argument that tradition was such a reason. Allowing tradition to thus entrench itself, he said, would have allowed for laws barring interracial couples. And, as he noted, the California Supreme Court struck down a ban on interracial marriage in 1948, almost two decades before the U.S. Supreme Court did in Loving v. Virginia.

Although he could have decided the case on this basis alone, the Chief Justice kept going. He explicitly found that discrimination against gays, on the basis of their sexual orientation, was equivalent under the California state constitution to discrimination against racial minorities. To my knowledge, California’s is the only state high court to have come to this conclusion (the federal Supreme Court has not weighed in).

The effect of the ruling would not only on marriage:

For gays, this pronouncement is critical because it is portable—that is, gays can now challenge any California state policy that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation. As Marty Lederman points out elsewhere in Slate, this in its own right is a signal advance for gay people.

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One Response

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  1. Charlotte said, on May 17, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    Marriage is a basic civil right that should be attainable by all Americans if they choose. If people have such a problem with this check out our trailer. Produced to educate & defuse the controversy it has a way of opening closed minds & provides some sanity on the issue: http://www.OUTTAKEonline.com


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