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“Proposition 8” case ends

California’s Supreme Court, without explanation, refused Wednesday afternoon to revive “Proposition 8” — the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.  It rejected a plea to order county clerks across the state to obey that ballot measure.  The state court acted in a brief order, with no noted dissents.  This case may have been the last legal barrier to a wave of gay and lesbian marriages in the nation’s largest state.

The practical effect of the state court’s action was to give state officials a clear path to require clerks in all fifty-eight California counties to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.  Officials have already issued such orders, to implement a 2010 decision by a federal district judge in San Francisco striking down “Proposition 8” under the federal Constitution.

The state court acted seven weeks after the Supreme Court had appeared to put an end to the efforts of the “Proposition 8” sponsors to salvage their measure.  In a decision June 26 in Hollingsworth v. Perry (docket 12-144), the Court had ruled that backers of a ballot measure did not have a legal right to be in court to defend the proposition.

In doing so, the Supreme Court did not take a position on the ruling by now-retired U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker to strike down “Proposition 8” or on the basic question of whether the Constitution requires marriage equality for gays and lesbians.  The practical effect, though, was to make Judge Walker’s ruling final.

Whatever lingering doubt there had been over the past seven weeks, about whether California would officially become the thirteenth state to permit same-sex marriages, was due to a series of maneuvers by supporters of “Proposition 8” to put a halt to such unions under various theories of California state law.

The state’s supreme court in its order Wednesday did not resolve any of the state law issues that had been put before it by the ballot measure’s sponsors and by one county clerk, from San Diego County.   The decisive part of the state court order was this single sentence: “The petition for a writ of mandate is denied.”   That was a reference to a petition by the “Proposition 8” sponsors to direct county clerks to treat the measure as if it were still in effect.  The San Diego clerk had made a similar request, but recently had abandoned it.  On Wednesday, the state court routinely dismissed that separate case.

The theory behind the state court maneuvers was that Judge Walker’s ruling only applied to the two same-sex couples who won the case before him, or, at most, to the two counties that those couples had sued in the case — Alameda and Los Angeles.  So, the sponsors and the San Diego clerk had contended, “Proposition 8” remained in effect everywhere else in the state.

California voters approved that measure in November 2008, in order to overturn an earlier California Supreme Court decision — based on the state constitution — that had nullified a state law that limited marriage to opposite-sex couples.  Although that ruling was overturned by “Proposition 8” — amending the state constitution — it was in effect long enough for about 18,000 gay and lesbian couples to get married legally.

After the state supreme court upheld “Proposition 8” under the state constitution, such marriages were not allowed until after Judge Walker’s ruling actually went into effect this summer.   It had been put on hold while appeals challenging it had gone forward.  Those appeals ended with the Supreme Court’s late June ruling.

Now, California fully joins this list of other states — along with Washington, D.C. — that permit such marriages: Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, “Proposition 8” case ends, SCOTUSblog (Aug. 14, 2013, 6:00 PM),