WEST HOLLYWOOD—As the Supreme Court went into its second day of debate over the current issue of same-sex marriage, residents of West Hollywood were attentively tuned in.
Mikel Gerle, a city hall employee, plans on being married in September and believes he’s entitled to the same rights as other married couples.
“It really comes down to dignity,” Gerle said. “It’s a part of my life. I’ve been in relationships, I’ve lived with partners, I’ve had partners who have died in the hospital. I know what it’s like to be at the whims of a head nurse.”
West Hollywood is home to one of the nation’s largest gay communities, and it is also a pioneer city in the establishment of a domestic partnership ordinance.
In Washington, United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy made a statement of caution to the court on Tuesday in response to lawyer Theodore Olson, who challenged the validity of Proposition 8, a 2008 vote in California that rescinded the rights of married same-sex couples within the state.
“It walls off gays and lesbians from marriage, the most important relation in life...thus stigmatizing a class of Californians based upon their status and labeling their most cherished relationships as second-rate, different, unequal, and not okay,” Olson argued.
“You’re really asking...for us to go into uncharted waters,” Kennedy said. “There’s a wonderful destination or there’s a cliff.”
Back in West Hollywood, City Councilman John Duran, and also co-founder of Equality California, a society that campaigns for the legalization of same-sex marriage, encouraged Kennedy to venture forth in those waters.
“We hope he goes forward into those uncharted waters, knowing it will be treacherous,” Duran said. “But considering justice, considering equality, considering the liberty issues involved, it’s the right thing to do for the country, much like the repeal of the ban on interracial marriage.”
Justice Kennedy, likely to hold the deciding vote in this case, heard a series of arguments Tuesday that dealt directly with same-sex marriage.
In his defense of Proposition 8, Lawyer Charles Cooper told the Supreme Court that marriage was intended for “responsible procreation.” He explained that the institution of marriage could be threatened if same-sex couples, who cannot bear children, were allowed to marry. He said, “Redefining marriage as a genderless institution will sever its abiding connection to its historic traditional procreative purposes.”
This remark prompted Justice Elena Kagan to ask if people over the age of 55 should be denied the right to marry considering they “don’t help us serve the government’s interest in regulating procreation through marriage.” It was Justice Samuel Alito who explained the court might require more time in order to see the affects same-sex marriage could have on a nation.
“Traditional marriage has been around for thousands of years,” Alito said. “Same-sex marriage is very new. I think it was first adopted in The Netherlands in 2000. So there isn’t a lot of data about its effect.”
Justice Kennedy appeared torn as both sides presented their case. “We have five years of information to weigh against 2,000 years of history or more,” he said, echoing Alito’s statement. On the other hand, he showed sensitivity to the nearly 40,000 children of same-sex couples in California, saying that denying their parents to marry could be harmful.
“[The children] want their parents to have full recognition and full status,” Kennedy said. “The voice of those children is important in this case, don’t you think?”
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court was presented with the second installment of the case, which challenged the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law passed in 1996 outlawing federal recognition and benefits to same-sex spouses.
Attorney Paul D. Clement, a representative of the House Republican leadership, defended the law. He explained that the federal government should uphold DOMA because it establishes a uniform definition of marriage.
Clement went on to explain that Congress approved the 1996 law because it was concerned that if one state extended the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, the laws would be altered.
“Do we really think that Congress was doing this for uniformity reasons,” Justice Kagan asked. “Or do we think that Congress’s judgment was infected by dislike, by fear, by animus and so forth?”
Kagan then read an excerpt from the House record that was written at the time the law was passed. It read that the law was created by a “collective moral judgment” in order to “express moral disapproval of homosexuality.”
Clement argued that it was irrelevant that “a couple legislators may have had an improper motive.” He added that the main question for the court was whether the law was supported by a rational justification.
During the hearing, Justice Kennedy appeared to be leaning toward the decision that the states should have jurisdiction on the issue of marriage. He said the federal government should leave “the historic commitment of marriage, and of questions of the rights of children, to the states.”
It will be the end of June before a ruling is made by the Supreme Court.
“We’re here on pins and needles” in West Hollywood, Duran said.
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