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County of LA Join Lawsuit Against Prop 8, ACLU Laywer Makes a Great Case

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Photo by Eheartsart via LAist Featured Photos on Flickr

Today, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to join one of the three lawsuits filed in the California Supreme Court to overturn Prop 8, which eliminated the right of gay couples to marry in California. They joined the City and County of San Francisco, County of Santa Clara and City of Los Angeles in the case.

"Some may ask why, as a county supervisor, I would get so directly involved in this issue," Supervisor Gloria Molina said in a statement this afternoon. "First, as a county, we are directly responsible for the issuance of marriage licenses. Second, we are elected officials sworn to uphold the constitution. But third—and, in my view, most importantly—we face the dilemma of balancing the enforcement of Proposition 8 with upholding the fundamental equal protection rights of all our citizens. Simply put, we need clarity on this issue..." (Molina's full statement posted below).

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At the meeting, Catherine Lhamon, the Racial Justice Director of the ACLU had a very powerful and personal twist to her urging of the County to join the lawsuit. "My parents married in Washington, D.C., rather than in Virginia, where my mother was raised, because in 1966 Virginia still outlawed interracial marriage. My mother, who is black, could not at that time marry my father, who is white, in her home state," she explained. She continued, talking about the US Supreme Court's ruling on the issue:

The United States Supreme Court outlawed race-based marriage restrictions the following year in Loving v. Virginia. I was raised in the shadow of Supreme Court decisions like Loving, and like Brown, that held that equal protection applies to all persons, and that promised a new day of meaningful opportunity for people like me. If an electorate can, through the tyranny of the majority vote, wipe away such fundamental constitutional protections as the right to equal protection for all persons, then we as a state are returning to the bad old days of institutionalized discrimination that I never thought I would see in my lifetime. I urge this board to do what is right and to work, through a lawsuit, to protect all Californians [Lhamon's full comment is posted below]
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Full statement by LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina


Their arguments are two-fold: First, that revoking an existing right guaranteed by the Equal Protection Clause of the California State Constitution is not an amendment but a revision. Second, that such a move is not a fundamental right that could be subject to popular vote; rather, it is a deliberative process requiring—at a minimum—a Constitutional Convention or a two-thirds vote of the California State Legislature in addition to a popular vote.

And I agree.

Some may ask why, as a county supervisor, I would get so directly involved in this issue. First, as a county, we are directly responsible for the issuance of marriage licenses. Second, we are elected officials sworn to uphold the constitution. But third—and, in my view, most importantly—we face the dilemma of balancing the enforcement of Proposition 8 with upholding the fundamental equal protection rights of all our citizens. Simply put, we need clarity on this issue, and I believe joining one of these legal challenges to Proposition 8 is the most prompt and effective way of achieving this goal.

Separate from the legal level—on the very human and personal level—I feel compelled to say that Proposition 8’s passage saddened and angered me for several reasons.

First, Proposition 8’s passage basically mandates that certain people have fewer rights than others. It says that certain brothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, uncles, mothers, and fathers are second-class citizens—that though they have all the responsibilities of citizens, they have fewer rights. That is wrong.

Second, the right to marry—with all of its attendant rights and responsibilities—is a civil right, one that has nothing to do with religion. Nothing in the California Supreme Court’s ruling or the Equal Protection Clause gives anyone the right to force any religious institution to marry anyone. So Proposition 8 is not about religion. It is about discrimination. And lest we forget, it took a California Supreme Court decision to overturn miscegenation laws in this state. As late as 1967, 16 states still had miscegenation laws on the books and in their respective constitutions. Back then, like now, opponents of this change used the same religious arguments being made today. President-Elect Barack Obama’s parents would not have been able to get married in those 16 states.

Lastly, as a Latina, I am well aware of discrimination. I have dedicated my entire political career to fighting it. I began my career advocating on behalf of Spanish-speaking, Latina immigrant women whose most fundamental right of reproductive choice was taken away by others. Specifically, it was taken away by a group of county physicians who gave them no choice and no voice—and who made the decision that sterilization was right for them. Such abuses of power could not stand then and they cannot stand now.

While the focus is on the gay and lesbian community, I think this is a civil rights issue for everyone. Every vulnerable minority group in this state should be extremely concerned about the ability of the majority to reach into the constitution and change it to single them out and opt them out of the constitution’s protections. That is something no one in this state can or should support. And it is something I intend to fight against.
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Full statement by Catherine Lhamon, Racial Justice Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California
Good morning. I am Catherine Lhamon, Racial Justice Director of the ACLU of Southern California. I urge this board to file suit or join an existing suit to challenge the constitutionality of Proposition 8. The very title of Proposition 8 states its constitutional defect. Its title is, “Eliminates the Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry.” Proposition 8 takes away what our constitution guarantees as a fundamental right. It works a breathtaking diminution of the value of our constitution itself: by allowing voters to completely revise core constitutional principles, Proposition 8 sets a dangerous precedent that all our constitutional protections – the right to free speech, the right to equal protection of the law, and others – exist only for so long as majorities vote yes on them. If it stands, it will suggest that any fundamental rights can be revoked on a bare majority vote, regardless of what our constitution otherwise guarantees.

Our system of checks and balances does not give the voting majority the right to write out of the constitution those core principles enshrined in it. Our system of checks and balances is based on the principle that the constitution sets the baseline for all our most fundamental rights, and a simple majority of voters cannot take those away. Proposition 8 is unconstitutional and will be overturned in court; this county should be on the right side of history, saying that we will not be part of official discrimination.

As much as I am professionally interested, as Racial Justice Director of the ACLU of Southern California, in ensuring equal opportunity for all people, this issue is also deeply personal for me. My parents married in Washington, D.C., rather than in Virginia, where my mother was raised, because in 1966 Virginia still outlawed interracial marriage. My mother, who is black, could not at that time marry my father, who is white, in her home state. The United States Supreme Court outlawed race-based marriage restrictions the following year in Loving v. Virginia. I was raised in the shadow of Supreme Court decisions like Loving, and like Brown, that held that equal protection applies to all persons, and that promised a new day of meaningful opportunity for people like me. If an electorate can, through the tyranny of the majority vote, wipe away such fundamental constitutional protections as the right to equal protection for all persons, then we as a state are returning to the bad old days of institutionalized discrimination that I never thought I would see in my lifetime. I urge this board to do what is right and to work, through a lawsuit, to protect all Californians.