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Interview With Californian Judge Ronald George: 'Young People Are Much More Accepting of Gay Marriage'

Last week the Californian Supreme Court decided that gay marriage was legal. The decision, authored by Chief Justice Ronald George, cleared the way for thousands of gay couples to tie the knot. In an interview with SPIEGEL, George explains the meaning and context of the court's ruling.

SPIEGEL: Will the decision to legalize gay marriage in California influence the thinking in other states?

Ronald George: I think so. So the question is, if you call [gay marriage] something different, don’t you basically, by definition, mean that it is inferior? The attorney for the city of San Francisco said let’s just take the ruling of the California Supreme Court back in 1948. Have you heard of this Perez case where we were almost 20 years ahead of the United States in ruling that it’s unconstitutional to say that people of different races cannot marry? Well, she said, what if we had said back then if a black man marries a white woman, we won’t call it marriage, we’ll call that a transracial union. Would this court have said that’s all right? So words do matter.

SPIEGEL: Gay marriage has always been a favorite issue when it comes to mobilizing the religious right. Have you gotten a lot of criticism?

George: So far there has not been much indication of that. I would not have been surprised if there had been more reaction. Actually, it’s quieter than I would have thought.

SPIEGEL: When the Supreme Court in Massachusetts handed down a similarly controversial ruling on gay marriage in 2004, George W. Bush used it to rally the Christian right. But his possible successor, John McCain, hasn't done that yet.

George: Well, you know, the mood has changed. It’s hard to say. A lot of it depends on geography, some of it also is generational. According to some polls, young people are much more tolerant or accepting of gay marriage than older generations. Look, our governor, [Arnold] Schwarzenegger, said he respected the court’s decision and would uphold it. Of course, that is his duty, but he didn’t have to say that. And he's a Republican.

SPIEGEL: Republican politicians hoped that judges they appointed would defend the conservative legacy even if the White House goes to the Democrats in the fall. Have you switched sides?

George: I’d say we have a judiciary that is very, very respected nationally. There was a story in the New York Times … recently saying that the California Supreme Court was the most influential of all the Supreme Courts in the United States and it’s followed more by other states. I think part of that is that we are independent.

SPIEGEL: If a majority of Californians vote to ban gay marriage in a referendum in November, does your decision lose its meaning? Or are they just overturning the word "marriage?"

George: If this amendment to the constitution passes, it would prevent gay people from being married, but it would not remove this protection that we put in our analysis. ... We're saying that if you look at a classification of gay people, you must treat it just as if you are classifying on the basis of the color of their skin or their religion. And that is probably the most important thing in the whole ruling, even though the population's attention understandably has mostly been on the "M word" of marriage.

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