The California Supreme Court decided Thursday that the sponsors of Proposition 8 and other ballot measures are entitled to defend them in court when the state refuses to do so, a ruling likely to spur federal courts to decide the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.
The state high court’s decision, a defeat for gay rights groups, sets the stage for a federal ruling -- which could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court -- that would affect marriage bans outside California.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considering an appeal of a trial judge’s ruling that overturned Proposition 8, had asked the California court to clarify whether state law gives initiative sponsors standing, or legal authority, to defend their measures.
State officials are entitled to champion ballot measures in court, but the governor and the attorney general have refused to defend Proposition 8.
Although the 9th Circuit is not bound by Thursday’s ruling, the decision makes it less likely that the appeals court would decide Proposition 8’s future on narrow, standing grounds.
The 9th Circuit panel considering the gay-marriage dispute indicated in a hearing last December that it was leaning toward overturning Proposition 8 if the standing question could be resolved. Former U.S. Chief District Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who has since retired, overturned the marriage ban after a two-week trial that focused on the nature of sexual orientation and the history of marriage.
Gay rights groups argued that ProtectMarriage did not have standing to appeal Walker’s ruling. But they also contended they could win the case in federal courts on constitutional grounds.
The Ninth Circuit’s impending ruling is important for a host of reasons:
First, we are confident that the Court will affirm our historic District Court victory. The anti-marriage Proponents of Prop. 8 failed to present a shred of credible evidence to justify discimination against gay and lesbian Americans. Marriage is a fundamental right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, plain and simple.
Second, a Ninth Circuit victory can set an enormous precedent.The District Court decision that affirmed the right to marry for gay and lesbian Americans has had tremendous impact on public opinion. Since we filed the Perry case, seven national polls now show that a majority of Americans support marriage equality. That support will only grow as our case progresses and Americans are able to see the truth: when you look at the facts no American should ever be denied the fundamental freedom to marry.
Third, the potential reach of our case is greatly amplified. The Ninth Circuit is the largest appeals court in the nation, stretching the entire west coast and as far east as Montana and Arizona. This is an essential and critical step to bring our case before the U.S. Supreme Court and achieve our ultimate goal: full federal marriage equality.