NOTE TO READERS: This article addresses the legal situation before the Supreme Court's June, 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.
Today the Supreme Court dismissed the Prop. 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, on a legal technicality. The court declined to determine the proposition’s constitutionality and instead ruled that Prop. 8 supporters lacked “standing” to appeal the lower court’s decision regarding the gay marriage ban.
A Little Background
In August 2010, United States District Court Judge Vaughn Walker (a federal judge) overturned Prop. 8 (the voter-approved ban on gay marriage) ruling that the ballot measure violated the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Judge Walker issued a statewide injunction against enforcement of Prop. 8, but also issued a stay (delay) of his own order pending appeal.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Walker’s decision and kept the stay in place pending the Supreme Court’s review.
What Did SCOTUS Really Decide: What is Legal Standing?
The Supreme Court dismissed the Perry case because, it ruled, the proponents of Prop. 8 did not have “legal standing” to appeal the Ninth Circuit order where state officials, including the governor, refused to defend the law. Lack of standing means that the Prop. 8 supporters could not show they suffered a sufficient harm from the lower court’s decision to support their participation in the case.
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said that the Prop. 8 supporters had no “personal stake” in defending it, at least no more than other ordinary citizens of California. “It is not enough,” Roberts wrote, “that the party invoking the power of the court have a keen interest in the issue.” SCOTUS remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit.
What Happens Next: When Will Same-Sex Marriages Resume?
Although this decision has cleared the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California, they will not begin immediately. After the ruling, the Supreme Court clerk sent a letter to the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court saying that its formal judgment will not be issued for at least 25 days. It will then be up to the court of appeals to take care of a legal formality — dissolving Judge Walker’s 2010 suspension of his order and lifting the stay of the injunction. Same-sex couples will not be able to marry until the Ninth Circuit confirms they’ve lifted the stay.
All of this could take a few weeks, but it looks like same-sex weddings could begin taking place in California as soon as July 2013.
In the meantime, California Governor Jerry Brown has directed all California county officials and court clerks to comply with Judge Walker’s injunction against the enforcement of Prop. 8 and issue marriage licenses as soon as the stay is lifted.
It’s been reported that Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (one of the earliest and most prominent political proponents of same-sex marriage in California) believes gay marriage will resume in California within 30 days. And California Attorney General Kamala Harris told reporters, “As soon as they lift that stay, marriages are on . . . .the wedding bells will ring.”
California is the 13th state to recognize same-sex marriage. (See also Marriage Equality Update: Ten and Counting)