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Southland supporters of same-sex marriage were celebrating Wednesday, with the U.S. Supreme Court clearing the way for same-sex unions to resume in California, although the high court fell short of setting a precedent that would legalize gay marriage across the country.
In a 5-4 ruling, the court found that backers of Proposition 8—- which was approved by California voters in 2008 and banned same-sex marriage—lacked legal standing to challenge a lower court ruling that found the measure unconstitutional.
“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” according to the court’s ruling, penned by Chief Justice John Roberts. “We decline to do so for the first time here.”
Roberts was joined in the majority by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Antonin Scalia.
Since Proposition 8 supporters had no standing, the court did not issue a ruling on the merits of same-sex marriage or Prop. 8, but merely let stand the original federal court ruling striking down the measure. The Supreme Court’s action means same-sex marriage will be legal in California, but not across the nation.
The nation’s highest court also struck down a key portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which was enacted in 1996 and defined marriage solely as a union between opposite-sex couples. The court ruled that the act was unconstitutional by denying federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, which supports Prop. 8, said the rulings were an attack on the institution of marriage.
“The high courts’ refusal to correct the unconstitutional rulings of lower-court judges and the dereliction of duty by constitution-bound state officials demonstrates that not only is natural, man-woman marriage no longer respected, but neither is our republic and system of written laws,” Thomasson said.
In March 2000, California voters approved Prop. 22, which specified in state law that only marriages between a man and a woman are valid in California. But in May of 2008, the state Supreme Court ruled the law was unconstitutional because it discriminated against gays, and an estimated 18,000 same-sex couples got married in the ensuing months.
Opponents of same-sex marriage quickly got Prop. 8 on the November 2008 ballot to amend the state constitution, and it was approved by a margin of 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent.
In May 2009, the California Supreme Court upheld Prop. 8 but also ruled that the unions of roughly 18,000 same-sex couples who were wed in 2008 prior to its passage would remain valid.
Same-sex marriage supporters took their case to federal court, and U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled in August 2010 that Proposition 8 “both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation.”
Backers of Prop. 8—ProtectMarriage.com—appealed to the 9th Circuit, because then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and then-Attorney General Jerry Brown declined to do so. The appellate court heard arguments in 2011 but put a decision on hold while it awaited a state Supreme Court ruling on the ability of Prop. 8 backers to press the case forward despite the state’s refusal to appeal.