Kudos, caution after Calif. marriage ruling

MIDDLEBURY — Addison County attorney and same-sex marriage advocate Beth Robinson hailed a federal judge’s ruling last week that struck down California’s ban on same-sex unions, but she cautioned that the decision does not guarantee a national pathway to equal rights for gay and lesbian couples.
“It confirms what we have been saying all along — the Constitution doesn’t countenance carving out gay people from the same right to marry that other citizens take for granted,” Robinson said during a phone interview on Thursday.
“It is a significant win,” she added.
Robinson is chairwoman of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Action Committee (VFMAC) and one the lead attorneys in the Baker v. State case that resulted in a Vermont Supreme Court decision that led to Vermont’s civil union law a decade ago. Ironically, Robinson was in San Francisco last Wednesday participating in an American Bar Association panel when Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker issued his 136-page opinion on Proposition 8. It was in 2008 that a majority of Californians passed Proposition 8, which defines marriage strictly as a union between a man and a woman.
Supporters of gay marriage questioned the constitutionality of Proposition 8 and took the matter to court.
Walker minced no words in his decision.
“Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license,” Walker wrote. “Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.”
Robinson acknowledged that new or anticipated court actions are likely to prevent same-sex marriages from being recognized in California, at least in the near future. Proposition 8 supporters have already asked for a “stay” to keep the status quo in place pending an appeal of Walker’s decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Depending on that court’s ruling, the matter could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in turn could issue a decision influencing same-sex marriage on a national level. At this point, gay marriage is legal in five states, with Vermont being the only state to approve it legislatively (without court action). Still, state-sanctioned same-sex unions do not receive federal recognition in terms of the rights and benefits accorded to opposite-sex marriage.
Robinson said she and other advocates will continue to follow the legal status of California’s Proposition 8, as well as some parallel cases in other states — such as Massachusetts — in which same-sex married couples are suing for federal rights and recognition.
“There is no silver bullet,” Robinson said, in stating there will likely not be one single case or ruling that will result in a national recognition of same-sex marriage.
“Stay tuned,” Robinson wrote in her blog entry on the VFMAC website. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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