First, the court wasn't debating whether gay marriage should be legal; they decided if calling same-sex unions "domestic partnerships" and hetero unions "marriage" was constitutional. The decision states,
"Accordingly, the legal issue we must resolve is not whether it would be constitutionally permissible under the California Constitution for the state to limit marriage only to opposite-sex couples while denying same-sex couples any opportunity to enter into an official relationship with all or virtually all of the same substantive attributes, but rather whether our state Constitution prohibits the state from establishing a statutory scheme in which both opposite-sex and same-sex couples are granted the right to enter into an officially recognized family relationship that affords all of the significant legal rights and obligations traditionally associated under state law with the institution of marriage, but under which the union of an opposite-sex couple is officially designated a "marriage" whereas the union of a same-sex couple is officially designated a "domestic partnership." (3-4)
Basically, if both domestic partnerships and marriages carry the same legal benefits, is it constitutional to limit marriage to just between a man and a woman?
It somewhat reminds me of Plessy v. Ferguson that ruled "separate but equal" based on race. If civil unions and marriages have the same legal benefits, they are separate but equal. However, Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 ruled that separate but equal isn't equal, and this Californian court decision is saying the same thing.
The court points out that sexual orientation doesn't limit a person's ability to form a loving relationship and a family and that sexual orientation isn't a reason to deny rights to people, even the right of marriage.
Marriage carries a certain social weight and respect that domestic partnerships don't have. Allowing gay marriage gives same-sex couples the same dignity as opposite-sex couples, to embrace the full humanity of everyone and say "Your relationship is just as valid as mine; your love is just as life-giving as mine; and you, as a person, are worthy."
"But what about the will of the people?" some ask. "The people of CA don't want gay marriage and have voted against it!"
The court ruled on whether denying gay marriage was constitutional, not if the people of California agreed with it. Popular opinion doesn't hold any sway on the Constitution; it's a living document that guarantees inalienable rights. At times, popular opinion didn't want the emancipation of slaves, but that doesn't mean popular opinion was right. In some places in the United States, popular opinion probably says that guns should be outlawed, hunting or otherwise. You know what though? Tough shit. The right to bear arms is written in the Constitution so unless there's an amendment, all guns will never be banned. I'm generally under the idea that the Constitution shouldn't be used to limit rights, but instead guarantee freedoms, so I wouldn't necessarily be for an amendment in the first place. If we say we're for protecting rights, we've got to protect all of them - free speech, guns, assembly, a trial of peers, speedy trials, religion, and yes, even marriage.
If the three presidential candidates were running just in California, their positions on gay marriage would be unconstitutional, by the way.
Here's what I want to know: How does two people of the same gender getting married hurt anyone? Why is it so threatening to someone that two people want to join together and publicly declare their love as people have been doing for centuries?
Obviously I'm biased and think gay marriage is great, but I honestly see no harm in ensuring that all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation, have equal rights.
Thanks to Disagreeably Right for prompting the post. You can find the full text of the court decision here.