[JURIST] The California Supreme Court [official website] on Thursday heard oral arguments in three cases [case filings] challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8 [materials], the ballot measure passed in November [JURIST report] that banned same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] in the state. Equality California [advocacy website] challenged the validity [press release] of the proposition, arguing that it went against the state's constitution [materials], by stripping an entire class of people of what they said was the fundamental right to marry. It also argued that in order for such a broad change to be made, a constitutional revision, which requires not just a proposition, but approval by either two-thirds of the state's legislature or a statewide constitutional convention, was necessary. Arguing the case for the group, Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) [advocacy website] said allowing such a change undermined the principles of the constitution:
Our Constitution is based on the principle that majorities must respect minority rights. But if a majority can change the Constitution to take away a fundamental right from one group, then it can take away fundamental rights from any group. Our government will have changed from one that respects minority rights to one in which the power of the majority is unlimited.
ProtectMarriage [advocacy website] argued in favor of affirming the proposition [press release]. Counsel for ProtectMarriage, Kenneth Starr, argued that, because Proposition 8 was specific and limited in scope, it was appropriately passed by the ballot measure, and that the court could therefore not justifiably overturn the measure:
Proposition 8’s brevity is matched by its clarity. There are no conditional clauses, exceptions, exemptions, or exclusions. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Describing Proposition 8 as a revision to the state constitution, depends on characterizing Proposition 8 as a radical departure from the fundamental principles of the California Constitution. But that portrayal is wildly wrong. Proposition 8 is limited in nature and effect. It does nothing more than restore the definition of marriage to what it was and always had been under California law before June 16, 2008 – and to what the people had repeatedly willed that it be throughout California’s history. It is now part of the state constitution.
Commentators on the case have speculated that, given the thrust of the court's questions to the presenters of the arguments, the court appeared unlikely to overrule [LA Times report] the measure. The court is expected to issue a ruling on the matter within 90 days.
In November, the California Supreme Court agreed [order, PDF; JURIST report] to hear the three cases [JURIST report] challenging Proposition 8, but denied a petition to stay [text, PDF] its enforcement. Proposition 8 has become a focal point for gay rights, and during the campaign donors from across the US and several foreign countries contributed $83 million in total for both sides of the issue, setting US fundraising records [JURIST report].