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Calif. Democrats Rejoice, Republicans Search for Answers After Gay Marriage Rulings

CPR photo/Ben Adler

Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) and members of the California Legislature's LGBT Caucus react to Wednesday's U.S. Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage at the State Capitol.

CPR photo/Ben Adler

Gavin Newsom might be the best-known supporter of same-sex marriage in the country – even though he is straight.  It was Newsom who, as mayor of San Francisco, unilaterally decided to issue marriage licenses to gay couples in 2004.  And it was Newsom who, after the California Supreme Court temporarily legalized same-sex marriage in 2008, gave this famous quote that would be used to help pass Proposition 8’s gay marriage ban later that year: “This door’s wide open now – it’s gonna happen, whether you like it or not!”

Now, same-sex marriage will happen in California after Wednesday’s Supreme Court rulings.  And Newsom, who’s currently Lieutenant Governor, once again spent the morning at San Francisco City Hall as he awaited the news.  “It was a remarkable place to be, because it was that bookmark to 2004 – a lot of the same faces, a lot of familiar themes,” he told reporters at the state Capitol later in the day.

Newsom says he never thought back then that this day would come – much as he’d like to say he did.  But now, he believes June 26th, 2013 will prove a tipping point in the national debate. Just look at opinion polls, he says, where “an increasing number of people that were opposed, saying, you know what?  This hasn’t destroyed the institution of marriage in those 11, 12 other states.  Let’s move forward.”

A group of openly gay California lawmakers gathered on an emotional Wednesday morning to react to the news.  Some joked to reporters: “I am ready to say yes to the dress!” cracked Asm. Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco).  Many said they exchanged phone calls and texts as the rulings came out.  Others recalled all the failed efforts to legalize same-sex marriage.

And some began preparing for a wedding.  Asm. Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) says she and her partner of 31 years have waited to get married until it was recognized under federal law.  They’re also preparing to raise a five-year-old who’s about to become parentless.

“My partner’s family is very Republican, very conservative and very Pentacostal,” Eggman said, tearing up.  “And when we talked about who would raise this child, they looked to nobody but us – as the people who were the most stable, who were the most able to provide a loving home, that we would do that – and we, of course, will.”

While legislative Democrats rushed to praise the ruling, Republicans mostly remained quiet.  Only a few issued statements, like Sen. Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) who recorded one saying he'll “continue to defend the traditional definition of marriage – that is, a marriage between one man and one woman.”

Other Republicans were more conflicted. “I spent the afternoon searching the scriptures trying to figure out how I’m going to relate to this new law,” said Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield).  She said she and other lawmakers discussed the rulings at Bible Study.  “It goes to the core of what I believe.  So it’s gonna take a little bit of time to study and figure out the appropriate response, actually.”

And some Republicans focused their criticism on the high court’s determination that Prop 8 couldn’t be defended in court, because the governor and attorney general refused to do so.  Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) says that could have a long-lasting effect on future ballot measures.  “It undermines the initiative.  It undermines the people’s right.  That’s one of the more enduring concerns I have about this – as well as its impact on the family.”

Nielsen says he expects Prop 8 supporters to fight this ruling – or perhaps turn to another ballot measure.  In the meantime, it’ll likely take at least 25 days before same-sex marriages become legal in California.  As soon as they do, county clerks can begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples – and Governor Jerry Brown has ordered them to do so.


Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio 

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