The Supreme Court on Friday kept alive a legal challenge to gay marriage in California, by agreeing to review the state's ballot measure that banned same-sex marriages after thousands had already been performed.
In an ambitious move that stunned some legal observers, justices agreed to second-guess a lower court's decision striking down California's Proposition 8. The move means the high court, dominated by conservatives, could put the Proposition 8 gay marriage ban back into effect.
Simultaneously, justices also agreed to consider challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which blocks gay married couples from receiving a host of federal benefits.
Meeting in a private session Friday morning, justices had to pick and choose among 10 different appeals that deal in some fashion with same-sex marriage. Eight of the appeals cases challenged the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which shuts out federal benefits for same-sex couples. One appeal involved an Arizona law on benefits for state workers, and one dealt with California's Proposition 8.
The justices' action came the day after Maryland issued its first same-sex marriage certificates, after voters approved a ballot measure last month.
As is customary, the justices didn't explain their decision about which cases to hear.
The California state ballot measure had declared that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized." The state's voters approved it in 2008 by a 52-48 percent, casting into limbo the status of same-sex couples who'd already been married in the state. More than 18,000 same-sex marriage licenses were issued in California before the ballot measure passed.
In a narrowly written decision issued last February, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Proposition 8 on the basis that it stripped individuals of rights that had previously been granted when gay marriages were permitted.
"Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the appellate court. "The Constitution simply does not allow for laws of this sort."
Opponents of same-sex marriage appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court. The attorneys who'd successfully argued against the ballot measure urged the Supreme Court not to take the appeal, despite the issue's importance.
"It fairly could be maintained that the question whether the states may discriminate against gay men and lesbians in the provision of marriage licenses is the defining civil rights issue of our time," attorneys David Boies and Theodore Olson wrote, before noting that the high court's "traditional standards" for hearing cases didn't apply.
PHOTO CAPTION: Laura Pratt listens to a speaker at a rally supporting gay marriage and celebrating the finding that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional on Wednesday, August 4, 2010.