Prop. 8: Some gay rights activists nervous about Supreme Court review

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With the U.S. Supreme Court announcing it would rule on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage, gay rights advocates settled in for at least a few more months in limbo.

By agreeing to review Hollingsworth vs. Perry, the justices could hand activists a historic victory and legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. But gay rights advocates are also well aware that the court could rule against them and set the movement back at a time when same-sex marriage has seen a series of election victories at the state level.


‘I think it’s the critical issue for gay and lesbian Americans today. It’s the issue that signals full equality and respect. Not just acceptance -- respect,’ said Tom Watson, the board chair of Love Honor Cherish, a group that has advocated for a ballot initiative to repeal Proposition 8.

MAP: How gay marriage has progressed in the U.S.

‘The case goes directly to the scope of civil rights in this country, whether they’re extended to everybody or defined very narrowly,’ Watson said.

Watson, a Los Angeles attorney, said he expected the justices to take the case, though it was tough to predict how the conservative-leaning court might rule. He noted that the court asked the parties to address whether supporters of Proposition 8 have standing, or the right to defend the measure. Normally, state officials would defend a state law being scrutinized by the Supreme Court, but California’s leaders have declined to do so.

If the court found that Proposition 8 supporters do not have standing, the justices would not have to rule on the merits of the case. Under those circumstances, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the measure is unconstitutional would stand and same-sex marriages could resume in California.

Q&A: Prop. 8, gay marriage and the Supreme Court

‘It would be winning on a technicality,’ Watson said.

Because of the uncertainty, Watson said his group would continue to consider pushing forward with a 2014 ballot measure to repeal Proposition 8. Either way, he said, California’s gay and lesbian couples are in for a frustrating wait.

‘We have kids growing up with parents that don’t have the legal protections that marriage gives,’ Watson said. ‘And, let’s face it, people die.’

TIMELINE: Gay marriage since 2000

Watson said someone had recently emailed his group asking whether his friends could get married. One member of the same-sex couple was in a hospice.

It pained Watson to send the answer: no.

In West Hollywood, City Councilman John Duran said he was nervous.

“I think any time our gay issues go to the U.S. Supreme Court we are all filled with anxiety because you never know,’ said Duran, a longtime activist with Equality California. ‘We have a lot of anxiety because we realize whatever decision they make, if it’s adverse, we have to live with it for a generation.”

But he added a more positive note: “We’re hoping it will be a broad reaching decision so all the anti-gay-marriage laws will be struck. it’ll be the final chapter in gay rights movement history.”

Chi Chi LaRue, a 53-year-old West Hollywood resident, said he was ‘exhausted’ by the ups and downs of the legal process.

On Friday, when reached by The Times for comment just as he was landing in Las Vegas, he said he was caught off guard: ‘I don’t have anything to say because I can’t process it.’


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Photo: Stuart Gaffney, left, and John Lewis, partners for 22 years, stand outside the federal courthouse in San Francisco in support of gay marriage in January 2010.