The justices unanimously ruled that the official proponents of Prop 8 have the right to defend the state constitutional amendment in federal court -- an important decision because the governor and attorney general have refused to defend it. In finding that Prop 8 proponents have what's called legal standing, the justices tossed the issue back to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which now will decide an even more significant issue: whether California -- and by extension all states -- can prevent, under the U.S. Constitution, the traditional definition of marriage from being redefined. The Ninth Circuit had asked the California court to rule on the standing issue.
If the California court had ruled against Prop 8 supporters, then gay "marriage" might have been legal again within days or weeks, some attorneys said. That's because a lower court ruling in 2010 had struck down Prop 8, and it would have been the most recent decision on the matter. That ruling is the one that was appealed to the Ninth Circuit. Eventually, the case could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ted Olson and David Boies -- the attorneys who sued to have Prop 8 overturned -- had argued that Prop 8 supporters did not have legal standing.
The question of legal standing became significant soon after California voters passed Prop 8 in 2008, when then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and then-Attorney General Jerry Brown refused to defend it in court. The question soon arose: If the state officials charged with defending a law refuse to do so, can anyone else legally step into that role? The California Supreme Court said "yes." Otherwise, the justices said, state officials would have veto power over the citizens.
"Neither the Governor, the Attorney General, nor any other executive or legislative official has the authority to veto or invalidate an initiative measure that has been approved by the voters," Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote for the court.
By allowing official proponents to step in and defend an initiative, Cantil-Sakauye wrote, voters can be assured that an initiative is given a "full and robust defense," even when public officials are hostile or indifferent to a measure. It also, she said, ensures that a court hears the "full range of legal arguments" in defense of an initiative. Prop 8 supporters had feared that even if Brown had defended the amendment in court, it would have been a tepid and weak defense.
ProtectMarriage.com, the official proponents of Prop 8, called the ruling an "enormous boost" for the amendment.
"This ruling is a huge disaster for the homosexual marriage extremists," a ProtectMarriage.com statement said. "The Court totally rejected their demands that their lawsuit to invalidate Proposition 8 should win by default with no defense. Their entire strategy relied on finding a biased judge and keeping the voters completely unrepresented. Today that all crumbled before their eyes."
"Today's decision is a critical step in our three-year battle to uphold marriage between a man and a woman," the ProtectMarriage.com statement added. "Now we can return our focus to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and our appeal to reverse the lower court's decision declaring Proposition 8 and traditional marriage itself 'unconstitutional.'"
The American Foundation for Equal Rights -- which Olson and Boies represented -- released a statement saying it remains confident that the Ninth Circuit will affirm the lower court and overturn Prop 8.
Traditionalists say gay "marriage" legalization would have a host of negative effects on religious liberty, impacting what is taught in schools and forcing private businesses and some religiously affiliated public organizations to endorse that to which they are morally opposed.
The case is Perry v. Brown.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Read the opinion online at http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S189476.PDF. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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