The California Supreme Court by a 6-1 vote today upheld Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage enacted by state voters in November.
At the same time, the court ruled that Proposition 8 is not retroactive and the 18,000 gay and lesbian marriages performed in the state before Nov. 4 will continue to be recognized.
The court said, "Those marriages remain valid in all respects."
Proposition 8 was approved by 52 percent of voters as an amendment to the California Constitution. As a constitutional amendment, the initiative overturned a decision in which the court ruled in May 2008 that the constitution's
guarantee of equal treatment provided a right to gay marriage.
The court, in a ruling issued in San Francisco, rejected three lawsuits in which same-sex couples and local governments claimed the measure could not be passed simply as an initiative because it was a constitutional revision rather than an amendment.
The court majority said the constitution gives voters broad amendment powers and that only a measure making "far reaching changes" in the state's basic governmental plan would be a revision.
Chief Justice Ronald George wrote that Proposition 8 "by no means makes such a far reaching change in the California Constitution as to amount to a constitutional revision."
George also wrote in the 136-page majority opinion that Proposition 8 concerns only access to the term "marriage" and does not affect same-sex couples' right to form families in domestic partnerships.
George wrote that gay and lesbian couples continue to have "a constitutional right to enter into an officially recognized and protected family relationship with the person of one's choice and to raise children in that family if the couple so chooses."
The court majority said that any change in the state's constitutional definition of marriage "must find its expression at the ballot box."
Justice Carlos Moreno said in a dissent he considered Proposition 8 to be a revision because it "strikes at the court of the promise of
equality that underlies our California Constitution."
A constitutional revision would require approval of two-thirds of the Legislature as well as a majority of state voters.
All seven justices said Proposition 8 was not retroactive for two reasons: because ballot materials did not unambiguously say it was retroactive and because invalidating previous same-sex marriages would take away vested property rights.
The court said that applying Proposition 8 retroactively would "disrupt thousands of actions" taken by married same-sex couples, "throwing property rights in disarray (and) destroying the legal interests and expectations of thousands of couples and their families."
In Washington, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said:
"I know today´s decision is a tremendous disappointment for many people. But I also know that the opinions of Californians are changing on this issue, and I believe that equal marriage rights will one day be the law in this state. This is already the case in Connecticut, Iowa,
Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. So, I believe this issue will come before the voters again, and I am very hopeful that the result will be different next time.
"Today's State Supreme Court ruling also declares that the 18,000 same-sex marriages that have already taken place in California are valid, and I believe these marriages will allow people to see for themselves that marriage equality is a step forward for California and not a step back."