Ruling: Gay marriage foes can fight for Prop. 8 in federal court
California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that backers of Prop. 8 – which banned gay marriage in the state – can defend the measure in federal court, in lieu of state officials who declined to do so. The ruling means a major federal lawsuit proceeds.
The California Supreme Court on Thursday opened the way for the continuation of a major legal battle in federal appeals court over whether the US Constitution affords a right to same-sex couples to marry.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In a unanimous ruling, the state high court said the proponents of Proposition 8 – the ballot initiative that amended the California constitution to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples – are authorized under California law to defend the measure because state officials are refusing to do so.
The issue arises in an ongoing challenge to Proposition 8 designed to overturn the measure and establish a federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
RECOMMENDED: Seven ways states differ on gay marriage
In 2010, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled that Proposition 8 violated both the due process and equal protection clauses of the US Constitution.
Proposition 8 proponents urged the governor, the attorney general, and other state officials to appeal the ruling. But California officials – who are primarily responsible for defending the state’s constitution and its laws – refused to file an appeal.
In their absence, Proposition 8 proponents filed their own appeal. It asked a three-judge panel of the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the federal judge’s ruling invalidating Proposition 8.
Same-sex marriage supporters sought to short-circuit the appeal by arguing that Proposition 8 proponents lacked the necessary legal standing to defend the law. Only California officials were authorized to defend the law in court, they argued.
After a hearing, the federal appeals court asked the California Supreme Court to clarify whether California law permits the proponents of a ballot measure to defend their successful initiative if state officials refuse to do so.
On Thursday, the state high court answered the question in the affirmative.
“California law authorizes the official proponents, under such circumstances, to appear in the proceeding to assert the state’s interest in the initiative’s validity and to appeal a judgment invalidating the measure,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote in a 61-page decision.
In a case where state officials refuse to defend the validity of a constitutional amendment approved by voters, she added, “it would clearly constitute an abuse of discretion for a court to deny the official proponents of an initiative the opportunity to participate as formal parties in the proceeding.”