First of all, let's note that the will of the people is not the highest law in the land, nor should it be. The will of the people has brought us slavery, discrimination on the basis of race and sex, Sunday blue laws, and American Idol. The people can be kind of stupid sometimes. Not always, but sometimes. And on the occasion that the people get stupid and try to pass discriminatory laws just because they have the sheer numerical authority to do it, someone has to be able to step in and say, "Well, yes, I realize that you all want it, but you can't pass a law outlawing Catholicism just because the Pope is really creepy. It's unconstitutional."
And that's what the courts have said here: that whether or not a majority of people in California want to deny gay people the right to marry, it's unconstitutional to discriminate against them by denying them a right that straight people have. Over at Pandagon, MAJeff (who appears to be the god of biscuits, for which I salute him) explains what it means that gays are now considered a "suspect classification":
In constitutional jurisprudence, there are basically two levels of analysis: rational basis and heightened scrutiny. Different states may have different levels, and Federal jurisprudence has sort of a middle one for gender, but these are the two basic ones.
Rational basis is the lowest level. It basically assumes that laws are constitutional if the state can show a rational reason for making the law–in this case, the state would need to have a “good enough” reason to distinguish between gay and lesbian people. Under this standard, the burden is on people challenging a law to show that the state does not have a “good enough” reason to deny the right.
The higher level is strict scrutiny. At this level, the burden falls upon the state to demonstrate is has a “really really good” reason to deny a right or treat people differently.
There are generally two ways to bump the analysis up to strict scrutiny. The first involves the denial of a “fundamental” right. Generally, those are the ones listed in constitutions, but things like marriage and privacy, although not explicitly listed, have been included.
The other way is through a suspect classification. At the Federal level, race is the only category that bumps this analysis up. Gender occupies sort of a middle location. Sexual orientation has no status at the Federal level.
MAJeff does go on to note that he's not a lawyer (just a "geeky sociologist who is studying the issue"), so any lawyers out there might want to check behind him on that, but on the surface, it sounds square. Gays should be allowed to marry not because there's any special reason to give them any special right, but because marriage is a basic right and there's no good reason not to give it to them.
Of course, if you read through the rest of that linked thread, you'll see that the fundies and Freepers have plenty of reasons to deny gays the right to marry, most of which involve dogs and/or polygamy and/or the influence of Satan (and, apparently, little boys and girls being forced to marry each other in public schools, which I don't quite understand). A few things to remember:
- Your dog cannot legally consent to marriage, nor legally sign the marriage certificate, so stop trying to make him.
- Straight Californians will not be forced to divorce their heterosexual partners now that marriage is legal for gays; it's a both-and thing, not an either-or.
- Churches will not be forced to perform gay wedding ceremonies, but should, because they're bound to be awesome.
- "Voting from the rooftops" is illegal (exceptions: voting precincts located on rooftops; absentee or mail-in ballots).
- Massachusetts has yet to collapse under the weight of its own sin and crumble into the ocean.
So here's to gays settlin' down (in California, at least) and what are sure to be the best wedding receptions evar.