Proposition 8 threatens the constitutional rights of all minority groups, according to lawsuit filed by religious coalition.
In a lawsuit filed November 17, the UUA, the UU Legislative Ministry of California, and seven other religious groups charged that the state cannot discriminate against one group of people without endangering the rights of all minority groups, including religious groups. The suit also charges that Proposition 8 constitutes a revision of the state constitution (which requires a two-thirds vote and legislative approval), rather than an amendment (which requires only a majority vote).
“Proposition 8 denies an entire class of citizens a basic civil right—the freedom to marry the person of their choice,” said UUA President William G. Sinkford. “Even worse, this amendment writes discrimination into the California Constitution. As people of conscience, we cannot permit legalized bigotry to attack California couples and families.”
The Unitarian Universalist Association has supported marriage equality for many years. The UUA General Assembly passed a resolution endorsing the right of same-sex couples to wed in 1996.
Filing suit with the UUA and the UU Legislative Ministry were the California Council of Churches; the Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, Episcopal Bishop of California (San Francisco Bay Area); the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Episcopal Bishop of Los Angeles; the General Synod of the United Church of Christ; the Northern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ; the Southern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ; and the Progressive Jewish Alliance.
Five other lawsuits have been filed challenging Proposition 8. On November 19, the court agreed to hear arguments related to at least three of the suits. According to the Associated Press, oral arguments could begin in March.
The California Supreme Court will be considering three issues: whether Proposition 8 is a revision of, rather than an amendment to, the California Constitution; whether Proposition 8 violates the separation-of-powers doctrine under the California Constitution; and whether the 18,000 same-sex marriages already performed will be considered valid if Proposition 8 is ruled constitutional.
The Court announced that Proposition 8 would remain in effect until a final decision had been made.
“We’re relieved they’re moving quickly,” said the Rev. Lindi Ramsden, executive director of the UU Legislative Ministry, which played a key role in organizing support against the Proposition’s passage. “It’s a core constitutional question, and it’s important that the Supreme Court has decided to take it head on.”
Proposition 8, a ballot initiative amending the state constitution to define marriage as “between a man and a woman,” needed a simple majority to pass. The proposition reverses a California Supreme Court decision issued May 15, 2008, which ruled that depriving same-sex couples of the right to marry was unconstitutional. Proposition 8 passed with 52 percent of the vote.
The UUA’s lawsuit claims that by denying same-sex couples the right to wed, Proposition 8 threatens the rights of all minorities. According to the writ, “Allowing the removal of fundamental constitutional rights for a particular group of Californians, based on a suspect classification and by a simple majority vote, would present a profound threat to the critical protections afforded by the guarantee of equal protection to the broad diversity of religious groups in this state.”
The UUA’s writ was submitted by Eric Isaacson, of Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins LLP and a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego, and Jon B. Eisenberg of Eisenberg and Hancock, LLP.
“California’s constitution is based upon each person's equality before the law,” Isaacson said in a statement. “To deprive people of equal protection of the laws on the basis of sexual orientation thus amounts to more than a simple amendment—it is a breach of the fundamental agreement that is our Constitution. If that can be accomplished by a simple majority vote, then all potential targets of discrimination are at risk—including religious groups.”
Ramsden expressed appreciation and gratitude for Isaacson’s role in submitting the suit. “Eric has made an incredible contribution,” she said. “He has been the attorney based in the community that has carried the torch regarding the unconstitutionality of depriving same-sex couples the right to marry. We’re honored to have him on our team.”
Ramsden also praised UU activists, who volunteered at phone banks before the election and participated in interfaith services and protests. “Unitarian Universalism continues to be a very important string around which the solution can crystallize,” she said. “You need an initial structure around which people can gather. UUs have played an important role in bringing the interfaith community together.”
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Jane Greer is a former senior editor of UU World magazine.