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Getting ready for gay marriage

Perhaps a bit prematurely, San Francisco officials on Tuesday told the Ninth Circuit Court they want to be able to move quickly to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples — if the Supreme Court does not take up the so-called “Proposition 8” case.   In a letter to the Circuit Court, the officials noted that the Justices were about to consider that case, and the officials raised the possibility that the case would simply be bypassed.

The Court is due to consider that case, among ten petitions on the same-sex marriage issue, when the Justices gather for Friday’s private Conference.  That petition could be granted review, perhaps along with other petitions, or it could be denied, or it could simply be put on hold, pending a ruling in any case or cases that get granted.  Its ultimate fate might not be known for months.

Even so, San Francisco authorities said they wanted to be able to react swiftly in the wake of Supreme Court action.  They said that, after gays and lesbians temporarily gained earlier the right to marry, city officials were swamped with those seeking licenses to wed, and the scene at the City featured hordes of spectators, protesters, and news reporters, and city officials were hard-pressed to deal with the chaos.  The officials said they need to plan for that in case it happens again, especially if the Court votes not to hear the California case and returns it to the Ninth Circuit promptly.

Under the Court’s Rule 16, if a petition for review is denied, lawyers in the case are notified “forthwith” — that is, right away.   San Francisco officials said they expect that, if “Proposition 8” review is denied, the case would be sent back to the Ninth Circuit promptly, so that the Circuit Court can put into effect its decision striking down “Proposition 8,” which banned same-sex marriage in the state.   So, the city officials asked the Circuit Court to give them twenty-four hours’ advance notice when it is going to implement the decision by issuing a formal mandate.

Once that ruling went into effect, the city letter said, “the city anticipates that there will be immediate and substantial demand from same-sex couples for marriage  licenses and ceremonies.”  Officials said they need time to “plan for and deploy an adequate number of officers to the areas where protests are likely to occur,” as well as to get ready for issuing licenses and performing actual marriage ceremonies.

Same-sex couples gained the right to marry under a California Supreme Court decision, but that was wiped out in 2008 when the state’s voters approved a ballot measure, “Proposition 8,” to change the state constitution so that marriage is open only to opposite-sex couples.  The state Supreme Court upheld “Proposition 8,” but refused to nullify some 18,000 marriages that had occurred in the meantime.   A federal court case then was filed, challenging the ballot measure, leading to the Ninth Circuit decision finding the amendment to be a violation of the federal Constitution.

That decision is now being challenged by the backers of “Proposition 8” in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry. (Supreme Court docket 12-144).

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Getting ready for gay marriage, SCOTUSblog (Nov. 27, 2012, 10:27 PM),