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Cal. Supremes Vote for Prop 8 Supporters

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on November 17, 2011 12:28 PM

The California Supreme Court has ruled on the same-sex marriage case, unanimously finding that supporters of Proposition 8 have a right to defend their cause in court.

Proponents of the gay marriage ban had appealed a lower court decision striking down Prop 8 as unconstitutional. But when they appealed to the 9th Circuit, the appellate court questioned whether they had standing (the right to come before the court) to sue.

The court asked the highest state court in California to weigh in, and now they have.

Proposition 8 was enacted as part of California's initiative process. With enough signatures, voters can seek a statewide vote on proposed constitutional amendments and laws.

Though the gay marriage ban successfully passed, the governor and attorney general refused to defend it in federal court. The District Court therefore allowed supporters of the ban to defend its validity. But the 9th Circuit wasn't so sure state law granted such a right.

The California Supreme Court has ruled that it does. Voters who support an initiative have a legitimate concern when it is not being defended by state officials in court, or it is being defended in a half-hearted manner. Without the right to sue or appeal, the voter-approved initiative may not get the full defense it deserves.

The court found that giving proponents of Prop 8 the right to continue the same-sex marriage case is essential to the integrity of the initiative process.

Today's decision made clear that the ruling has nothing to do with the underlying issues. The same right would apply to any ballot measure backed by the initiative process. It also has no binding effect on the 9th Circuit because federal courts are not bound by state court decisions. However, this doesn't mean the 9th Circuit won't strongly consider the state supreme court's reasoning.

It's thus impossible to tell just how the same-sex marriage case will play out. The public should expect a ruling from the 9th Circuit early next year.

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