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Prop 8 couples ’anxious’ to marry

by Matthew S. Bajko .
Sunday Feb 12, 2012

It has been nearly three years since they sued the state of California in order to secure the right to marry. For much of that time, as their lawsuit has wended its way through the courts, they have put their wedding plans on the back burner as the legal wrangling took center stage.

Now, with a second federal court ruling striking down the state's ban against same-sex marriage, the two plaintiff couples at the heart of the historic case are longing to walk down the aisle.

"We are anxious to get married before our youngest sons. They graduate high school next year and will begin their lives as adults," said Kristin Perry, after whom the Perry v. Brown federal case is named.

Sandra Stier, her partner of 12 years, added, "Marriage is something we have been waiting a really long time for and, as Kris said, something we can't wait to happen."

The Berkeley residents addressed a packed press conference Tuesday night in San Francisco following a 2-1 decision from a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said there is no legitimate reason for California to deny marriage rights to same-sex partners.

Joining the couple for the first time before the media were their 17-year-old fraternal twins Spencer and Elliot. Speaking on behalf of his brother, Spencer Perry said that living under the anti-gay marriage ban has meant that his family is not considered normal.

"Marriage equality is the next step for finally showing California that my parents are equal, that my family is equal," he said. "This ruling means that in the eyes of the government my family is finally normal. We don't have to prove that we love each other."

The other plaintiff couple, Los Angeles residents Paul Katami and Jeff Zarillo, also expressed their desire to be married soon. Katami introduced Zarillo, his partner of 11 years, as "my co-plaintiff, my partner, he is my best friend and he is my husband-to-be."

Zarillo said he hoped that due to the lawsuit "millions of other Americans will very soon be able to marry the person they love."

He added that, "finally," he and Katami "will be able to stand before our family and friends and make the one promise we have all longed for, the promise of love and commitment that we will honor for the rest of our lives."

Although the majority opinion stopped short of stating that LGBT couples are guaranteed marriage under the U.S. Constitution, it did uphold a district court ruling from 2010 that struck down Proposition 8, the state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage California voters passed in 2008.

Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt of Los Angeles wrote the February 7 opinion and was joined by Senior Circuit Judge Michael Daly Hawkins of Phoenix. They found that there was no legitimate reason for the enactment of Prop 8 other than to discriminate against LGBT people, a violation of the equal protection clause.

"It strikes a devastating blow to Prop 8," declared San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, whose office has waged a legal battle for marriage equality since 2004.

Narrow ruling

Should the appellate judges' narrow ruling be upheld, it would allow for same-sex marriages to once again occur in the Golden State. It would also likely mean that in the states covered by the 9th Circuit, such as Washington state where legislators are poised to enact a marriage equality law, voters could not then repeal such measures at the ballot box.

Based on the limited scope of the ruling, legal scholars do not believe it will result in a broad federal recognition of same-sex marriage or lead to the overturning of the federal ban known as the Defense of Marriage Act. There are several other lawsuits dealing with DOMA, though, that are expected to land before the Supreme Court.

The ruling against Prop 8 would go into effect in 21 days unless it is appealed, which lawyers for Prop 8's proponents are expected to file. They have 15 days from the issuance of the decision to ask for an en banc review from the appellate court, where 11 judges from the 9th Circuit would review the decision.

They could instead opt to appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could then hear the case as soon as the fall. There is no guarantee that the court would accept the case, and should it decide not to, then the lawsuit would end and same-sex marriage would again be legal in California.

But Theodore Olson, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said this week he "is firmly convinced" the Supreme Court will choose to hear the case.

"I would be very, very surprised if the Supreme Court doesn't feel, because this issue is going to come before them one way or another, this is the case that should be there," he said.

In the meantime, San Francisco officials are looking forward to the day when they can again issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Mayor Ed Lee, who served as the county clerk eight years ago when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom bucked state law and ordered city staff to marry LGBT couples, has instructed his administration to be prepared.

"We are getting ready," Lee said shortly after the appellate opinion was released.

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