After years of debate and legal wrangling between opponents and proponents of same-sex marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court this morning left intact a lower-court ruling that struck down the state's Proposition 8, the voter-approved ban on gay marriage.
The court ruled that the sponsors of Proposition 8 had no standing, or legal authority, to appeal a trial court ruling that struck down the statewide ban on same-sex marriage.
The decision has the effect of reinstating a 2010 ruling in which U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker said the ban violated the federal constitutional rights to equal treatment and due process.
Gov. Jerry Brown and state Attorney General Kamala Harris had refused to appeal Walker's ruling, and the high court said today that proponents of a voter initiative don't have the right to defend it on appeal if state officials decline to do so.
In another decision today, the court by a 5-4 vote struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which had prohibited the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex marriage.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has said that in the event that the Supreme Court ruled on the standing issue, he expected same-sex weddings in the California to resume by late July.
That timing includes 25 days in which Proposition 8 sponsors could ask the court for a rehearing, plus several days for a federal appeals court
to issue a mandate dismissing the appeal.
But there could be further litigation about the scope of the trial court ruling striking down Proposition 8.
Herrera and lawyers for two couples who challenged Proposition 8 say the injunction issued by Walker requires California officials to license and register same-sex marriages statewide.
The sponsors of Proposition 8 have said in court filings, however, that they think Walker's injunction would apply only to the two individual
couples who challenged Proposition 8.
The couples, who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in San Francisco in 2009, are Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier of Berkeley and Paul
Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo of Burbank.
In March 2000, California voters approved Prop. 22, which specified in state law that only marriages between a man and a woman are valid in California. But in May of 2008, the state Supreme Court ruled the law was unconstitutional because it discriminated against gays, and an estimated 18,000 same-sex couples got married in the ensuing months.
Opponents of same-sex marriage quickly got Prop. 8 on the November 2008 ballot to amend the state constitution, and it was approved by a margin of 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent. The approval was followed by statewide protests and lawsuits challenging Prop. 8's legality.
In May 2009, the California Supreme Court upheld Prop. 8 but also ruled that the unions of roughly 18,000 same-sex couples who were wed in 2008 prior to its passage would remain valid.
Same-sex marriage supporters took their case to federal court, and U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled in August 2010 that Proposition 8 "bot unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation."
Backers of Proposition 8 -- ProtectMarriage.com -- appealed to the 9th Circuit, because then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and then-Attorney General Jerry Brown declined to do so. The appellate court heard arguments in 2011 but put a decision on hold while it awaited a state Supreme Court ruling on the ability of Prop. 8 backers to press the case forward despite the state's refusal to appeal.
Once the state Supreme Court decided that Prop. 8 supporters had legal standing, the 9th Circuit moved ahead with its consideration of the case, hearing more arguments on a motion by Prop. 8 backers asking that Walker's ruling be thrown out because the judge was in a long-term same-sex relationship that he had not disclosed.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the proposition's primary impact was to "lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California."