Recently the media in California and across the country have given the impression that the California Supreme Court has ruled against same-sex marriages. Even CNN has reported this.


The Court’s August ruling had nothing to do with same-sex marriages. It had to do with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom violating state law.

What happened was this. Current California law restricts marriages to opposite-sex couples. Newsom, however, ordered his city’s officials to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Nearly 4,000 weddings (and a lot of media coverage) resulted before the practice was stopped by court order. The issue before the California Supreme Court, then, was not same-sex marriages but Newsom’s violation of current state law; and the Court voted unanimously that he had violated the law. The marriages were thereby invalid; and the Court ordered city officials to alter records and notify the affected couples that their marriages were not valid. The media reports, however, concentrated on the invalidation of the marriages; and in follow-up stories, this evolved into the inaccurate generality that the Court had opposed same-sex marriages.

Ironically, the Court sought to make very clear it was not dealing with the issue of same-sex marriages.

Chief Justice Ron George declared: "In short, the legal question at issue – the scope of the authority entrusted to our public officials – involved the determination of a fundamental question that lies at the heart of our political system: the role of the rule of law in a society that justly prides itself on being a ‘government of laws, and not of men’ (or women)."

George wrote: "To avoid any misunderstanding, we emphasize that the substantive question of California’s statutory provisions limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman is not before our court in this proceeding and our decision in this case is not intended, and should not be interpreted to reflect on that issue."

But it was.

The sloppiness of the media reporting has distorted the whole situation.

In ruling against Mayor Newsom, the Court was ruling against anarchy. Otherwise every city, county and state official would be free to enforce and follow only those laws with which they agreed.

Until January, state law is Proposition 22, passed by voters, which restricts marriages to opposite-sex couples. In January of 2005, however, AB205 will become law. Passed a year ago by the Legislature’s dominant Democrats and signed by then Governor Gray Davis (and used against him in his recall), AB205 grants same-sex "domestic partners" all the rights and responsibilities of married couples. It does not grant same-sex marriages, but it comes so close it is bound to clash with Proposition 22.

When this conflict reaches the Court, it will have to make a decision defining what California’s law on marriage is.

Until then, Proposition 22 is the law, and no public official has the power to overturn it or refuse to follow it.

Now if the media can just get that straight, maybe all the confusion about the current California situation will be clarified.

But I’m not holding my breath until they do.