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California appeals court hears same-sex marriage cases

[JURIST] A three-judge panel of the California Court of Appeals [official website] heard oral arguments Monday in six cases [court materials; press release] focusing on same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] - the first time a California appeals court has considered the issue. The state Attorney General's Office [official website] argued that California should be allowed to maintain its traditional definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, approved by the Legislature in 1977 [text] and by voters in 2000 [text], and that most benefits afforded to spouses under state law are also available to same-sex couples through domestic partnership registration. Attorneys representing same-sex couples and the City of San Francisco, meanwhile, asserted that the registration system falls short because it denies gays and lesbians the social recognition of marriage. One of the judges hearing the case, Justice J. Anthony Kline [official profile], described the registration scheme is "second-class marriage" and noted that the California Supreme Court had rejected a traditional definition of marriage in 1948 by allowing interracial couples to wed.

The state is appealing a trial court's 2005 ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that those laws are unconstitutional because they discriminate on the basis of sex and deny gays and lesbians the fundamental right of marriage. That ruling followed lawsuits challenging San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's decision to issue marriage licenses to 4,000 same-sex couples. The California Supreme Court, without addressing the merits of same-sex marriage, ruled that the mayor had exceeded his authority. A ruling from the Court of Appeals is expected by October. Whatever the result, both sides expect the issue to end up before the California Supreme Court. Bloomberg News has more. The San Francisco Chronicle has local coverage.

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