SAN FRANCISCO -- In nearly two years since John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney took part in this city's same-sex marriage movement, they have filed three rounds of tax returns, buried a mother, vacationed in Europe, and attended five weddings -- four involving both a bride and a groom.
These are the typical joys, sorrows, and rituals of couples that have been together for nearly two decades. Yet for Lewis and Gaffney, one of 4,037 pairs whose San Francisco-issued marriage licenses were invalidated by the California Supreme Court, domesticity also brings reminders of the legal rights they do not have and are suing to secure.
``We took a vow at San Francisco City Hall to be together for better or worse," said Gaffney, 43. ``It's hard because while we wait , we wait in a separate and unequal status."
A state appeals court in San Francisco today will consider whether a trial judge erred in declaring the state's existing marriage laws unconstitutional.
The First District Court of Appeal is scheduled to hear six hours of arguments in as many related cases -- four filed by the city and lawyers for 20 couples seeking the right to wed, and two brought by groups that want to maintain the status quo barring same-sex unions.
Although any ruling is expected to be appealed to the state Supreme Court, advocates on both sides say the stakes remain high . New York's highest court upheld that state's one man-one woman marriage laws on Thursday, shifting the gay rights movement's focus to other jurisdictions that might join Massachusetts in legalizing gay marriage.
High courts in New Jersey and Washington state are already deliberating cases brought by same-sex couples. But it is California, home to more same-sex couples than any other state, where a ruling could have the most impact.
``California is the most diverse state in the country, and the gay community has achieved a kind of visibility and integration here that is unlike any state," said Jennifer Pizer, a lawyer with the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund who is representing gay couples in both California and Washington.
The appeals that will be heard today were brought by California's attorney general and two groups opposed to gay marriage.
Deputy Attorney General Christopher Krueger said he plans to offer the appeals court the same argument he presented to Kramer: that until lawmakers rewrite the marriage statutes, California should adhere to a traditional definition of matrimony while offering a separate domestic partnership option that confers most of the same rights and benefits to same-sex couples.
After Kramer's decision, the Legislature became the first lawmaking body in the nation to legalize gay marriage. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill, saying it was up to voters or the courts to settle the contentious issue.