On Tuesday, the Justices of the California Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case that will determine if denying same-sex couples equal civil marriage rights violates the equal protection clause of the state constitution.
When faced with a similar case, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled there had to be equality in terms of unions, but left it up to the legislature to decide whether it would be called "marriage" or something else. Given the current political climate, what do you suppose they chose? Right. Only in Massachusetts, where the Supreme Court there mandated that only marriage would do, has a state instituted full marriage rights for same-sex couples. Things seem to be going fine in the Bay State. Thousands have been performed and locusts, floods or other plagues have yet to befall the commonwealth.
Things are not quite the same in New Jersey. It seems trying to create a separate but equal institution is turning out less well than many had hoped. Apparently, the word "marriage" has a lot more heft behind it than the legislators thought it might.
Last year in this space I posted a bit stating that the California Supreme Court was asking the lawyers in the same-sex marriage case here to chime in on just how important the word "marriage" is to equality.
From the New Jersey experience, the answer seems clear: very. At least if we want equality now. If the state wants to wait a while longer before truly delivering equal protection under the law, though (and to give themselves some political cover), they might weasel out here, too.
Let's hope for the best.