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California moves fast on gay marriages (UPDATED)

UPDATE 7:06 pm.  California’s attorney general said that she will be asking the Ninth Circuit Court to lift a stay order and thus enable same-sex marriages to go forward promptly in the state.  Her statement on the Supreme Court ruling and its impact can be read here.


California Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr., just hours after the Supreme Court ruled in the same-sex marriage cases, ordered state officials on Wednesday to begin issuing licenses to gays and lesbians who want to marry — just as soon as a federal appeals court lifts a temporary order that kept the issue on hold.   The governor’s statement is here.  A letter by state officials giving instructions to county officials is here.  And a letter by the state attorney general, saying that same-sex marriages would now be legal everywhere in the state, is here.

The Ninth Circuit Court, after striking down the state ban on same-sex marriage (“Proposition 8”), on June 12, 2012 ordered that its ruling would not go into effect if the case went on to the Supreme Court, as it did.  Both Governor Brown and other state officials said Wednesday that marriage licenses could not be issued until that order had been lifted.

In Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision, a majority ruled that no one had the right to be in the High Court or in the Circuit Court to defend the marriage ban.  The Justices ordered the Ninth Circuit to dismiss the appeal that the backers of the measure had pursued there, and lost.

Ordinarily, Supreme Court decisions are not formally put into effect for twenty-five days, to allow time for a request to reconsider.   In fact, the Court’s clerk sent a letter to that effect to the Ninth Circuit Court today.  Whether that time span will have to be played out before the Ninth Circuit lifted its temporary blocking order was unclear on Wednesday.  The supporters of same-sex marriage in the state apparently have the option of asking either the Supreme Court to put its ruling into effect sooner, or asking the Ninth Circuit to speed up action on lifting the stay.

Governor Brown, who has been opposed to “Proposition 8,” had asked the state’s top legal officer, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, for legal advice on what would happen in the test case if the defense of “Proposition 8” ultimately failed.  That led to Harris’s letter, dated June 3, saying that, “under the circumstances of this case,” she and her staff had concluded that a federal judge’s ruling against the ballot measure’s constitutionality “would apply statewide to all 58 counties.”

The result, the attorney general said, would be to open the way to issue marriage licenses all across the state.  When the legal events were completed, Harris added, county officials “must resume issuing marriage licenses to and recording the marriages of same-sex couples.”

The state’s governor pointed to that letter on Wednesday, and commented that he had directed the state Department of Public Health “to advise the state’s counties that they must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California as soon as the Ninth Circuit confirms the stay is lifted.”   The governor’s order then led a state official in the health department to send out the instruction to county officials, telling them that they must resume issuing licenses, but not until the Ninth Circuit had acted.  The letter said that this step “could take a month or more.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the controversy, Project Marriage, the group that promoted “Proposition 8,” argued that the ballot measure’s ban on same-sex marriage would remain in effect until there was a final decision in an appeals court on its validity.   Their lawyers said that is what the California state constitution requires when a ballot measure has been challenged in a court case.

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, California moves fast on gay marriages (UPDATED), SCOTUSblog (Jun. 26, 2013, 5:48 PM),