The Freedom to Marry in California

Winning Marriage: June 26, 2013

The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the freedom to marry in California on June 26, 2013, allowing all same-sex couples in California the ability to marry once and for all. The decision followed years of litigation in California, including several months of legal weddings in 2008, before the introduction by anti-gay forces of California’s Proposition 8.

History and the Path to Victory:

  • August 17, 1977: The California Legislature passes a state statute restricting marriage to different-sex couples. Governor Jerry Brown signs the bill into law.
  • March 8, 2000: Marriage opponents push through Proposition 22, a ballot initiative concerning a state statute restricting marriage to different-sex couples.
  • February 12, 2004: Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, California, directs officials in the city to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Hundreds of couples receive marriage licenses for the next month, spurring the conversation around the freedom to marry, and emphasizing that no one is hurt when same-sex couples are married. Months later, the California Supreme Court invalidates these marriages, but the action reflects the national excitement around the freedom to marry.
  • March 12, 2004: The City and County of San Francisco, along with Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, file several cases in state court asking for California’s marriage ban to be struck down, which are consolidated into In re Marriage Cases. The lawsuits are filed less than 24 hours after the California Supreme Court halts San Francisco from issuing any additional marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 
  • March 14, 2005: State Judge Richard A. Kramer rules in favor of the freedom to marry in California, ruling that the state’s marriage ban is unconstitutional.
  • September 6, 2005: The California Assembly votes in favor of the freedom to marry, becoming the first state legislature in American history to approve a marriage bill for same-sex couples. On September 29, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoes the bill, preventing it from taking effect. 
  • October 2006: The California Court of Appeals rules in favor of the freedom to marry, upholding the lower court ruling.
  • September 7, 2007: The California Assembly again votes in favor of the freedom to marry – and again, on October 12, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoes the bill, declaring the freedom to marry a question for the courts or for the people of California.  
  • May 15, 2008: The California Supreme Court rules in favor of the freedom to marry, once again upholding the lower ruling. The Court denies all requests for a rehearing weeks later, allowing marriages to begin between same-sex couples.
  • June 13, 2008: Same-sex couples begin marrying in California. Over the next few months, 18,000 same-sex couples marry in the Golden State.
  • November 4, 2008: Opponents of the freedom to marry in California push through Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment stripping same-sex couples of the freedom to marry. The amendment cements clearly discriminatory language into the California Constitution and serves as an enormous national wake-up call to supporters of the freedom to marry.
  • May 27, 2009: Same-sex couples and the American Foundation for Equal Rights file a legal case in federal court seeking to overturn Proposition 8 and restore the freedom to marry. Proponents of the case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger (later Perry v. Hollingsworth), seek an expedited legal process with the goal of receiving a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, but the judge orders a trial, providing a strong educational tool for many Americans.
  • August 4, 2010: Following the trial, District Court Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker rules in Perry that Proposition 8 violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantees of equal protection and due process.
  • February 7, 2012: The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rules in Perry, upholding Judge Walker's previous ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.
  • June 26, 2013: In a victory for the freedom to marry, the Supreme Court dismisses Hollingsworth v. Perry, declaring that the proponents of Proposition 8 lack legal standing to appeal the lower court rulings that already invalidated Prop. 8. The historic ruling makes permanent the August 2010 ruling finding Prop. 8 unconstitutional and results in the swift restoration of the freedom to marry in California. The freedom to marry resumes on June 28, 2013.
  • June 26, 2015: The United States Supreme Court rules in favor of the freedom to marry, ending marriage discrimination across the country.

Groups That Actively Worked on Marriage:

  • Equality California is the largest LGBT advocacy organization in California.
  • Vote for Equality/The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center is an organization working to advance the freedom to marry through grassroots action, voter education, and leadership development.
  • Let California Ring was a public education campaign to open hearts and minds about the freedom to marry in California.
  • Courage Campaign is an online organizing network that empowers grassroots and netroots activists to push for progressive change in California.
  • California Faith for Equality is a group bringing together clergy and lay leaders throughout California who support equality for LGBT people.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, membership organization dedicated to defending and expanding individual rights and personal freedoms throughout the country.
  • Marriage Equality USA was a grassroots organization based in California working for federal and state marriage equality.
  • The National Center for Lesbian Rights is one of the nation's leading LGBT legal organizations.
  • Freedom to Marry was the campaign to win marriage for same-sex couples nationwide.