When the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay on a district court order last year, keeping same-sex marriage from moving forward, it said the stay would remain in place "until the final disposition by the Supreme Court."
The Supreme Court dismissed the case June 26, ruling that Proposition 8's defenders did not have legal standing to appeal. That decision touched off a national frenzy over the idea that same-sex marriages could commence in California, but the court had not officially closed the case.
Under Supreme Court rules, the losing side in a legal dispute has 25 days to request a rehearing, and the court said it would not finalize its judgment in the case at least until after that waiting period elapsed.
The Ninth Circuit, however, lifted its stay Friday (June 28) and dozens of California residents proceeded with acquiring same-sex marriage licenses, including the two couples represented in the controversial case. The licenses were the first to be issued in the state in more than four years.
Proposition 8 defenders, including attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom and ProtectMarriage.com, on Saturday filed an emergency application with the Supreme Court arguing that the stay was lifted prematurely.
The Ninth Circuit, Proposition 8 lawyers said, should have waited for a certified copy of the judgment from the Supreme Court before taking action. The Supreme Court still has not issued a certified judgment.
"Everyone on all sides of the marriage debate should agree that the legal process must be followed," ADF senior counsel Austin Nimocks said. "The Ninth Circuit has failed to abide by its own word that the stay would remain in place until final disposition by the Supreme Court. When courts act contrary to their own statements, the public's confidence in the justice system is undermined."
Nimocks added that the more than 7 million Californians who voted to enact Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, "deserve nothing short of the full respect and due process our judicial system provides."
Kennedy, though, rejected the appeal with no additional comment. The author of the Supreme Court's majority opinion striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, Kennedy also has jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit. He could have acted alone or referred the matter to the full court.
Proposition 8 supporters still can file their request with another Supreme Court justice or seek a rehearing with the court before the end of the 25-day window.
Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, "Christians mistakenly may see this as simply more culture-war legal back-and-forth, of little import to anyone but television pundits. They're wrong.
"We're in the midst of a massive shift, culturally, politically and legally," Moore told Baptist Press. "Churches must be ready to speak, with convictional kindness, why we believe the Christian vision of marriage and sexuality is right. And we must root ourselves in the wisdom of our Baptist forebears to learn how to articulate the natural right of religious liberty and soul freedom."
With California's marriage amendment invalidated, 29 states remain with constitutional amendments defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
Florida is one of those states, and Ken Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Fla., is a Southern Baptist who has watched what has transpired in recent days related to the definition of marriage nationwide.
Though the high court in the DOMA case ruled against traditional marriage, Whitten said "our position of marriage is defined by Scripture and not by the Supreme Court."
The decision, he said, should serve as a reminder that people who are voted into office and have the power to appoint Supreme Court justices are "vitally important" to America's future.
"We are a people and we are a nation that no longer believes 'In God We Trust,'" Whitten said.
The president of the National Organization for Marriage, Brian Brown, expressed disappointment in the Ninth Circuit's decision to proceed without waiting for an official close to the case at the Supreme Court.
"It would appear that the desire to impose same-sex marriage by some public officials trumps integrity, fairness, propriety and even the rule of law. All Americans should be outraged," Brown said, adding, "A tradition of lawfulness is one of the things that has made this country great."
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. With reporting Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode and Joni B. Hannigan, managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness. 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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