SAN FRANCISCO -- The California Supreme Court refused Wednesday to revive Proposition 8, ending the last remaining legal challenge to same-sex marriage in the state.
Meeting in closed session, the state high court rejected arguments by ProtectMarriage, Proposition 8’s sponsors, that only an appellate court could overturn a statewide law.
A federal judge in San Francisco declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional in 2010, and state officials refused to appeal. ProtectMarriage did appeal, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that initiative sponsors have no right to defend their measures in federal court. The decision left in place the ruling by retired Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker.
In its challenge before the state’s highest court, ProtectMarriage argued that a single judge lacked the authority to overturn a state constitutional amendment. The group also contended that Walker’s injunction applied to two counties at most and that state officials had overstepped their authority by ordering county clerks throughout California to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
State officials countered that the challenge was a veiled attempt to persuade a state court to interfere with a federal judge’s order in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Same-sex couples began marrying in California in late June after a federal appeals court lifted a hold on Walker’s injunction. ProtectMarriage went back to the U.S. Supreme Court the following day, arguing the appeals court acted prematurely because the high court’s decision was not even final. The Supreme Court refused to intervene.
Then the group went to the state Supreme Court, asking the justices to halt the marriages immediately while considering the legal arguments. The seven-member court unanimously rejected the request for a “stay” or hold.
A county clerk from San Diego also asked the court to decide whether Proposition 8 remained valid law, but withdrew his request after failing to win support from other counties.
Voters approved Proposition 8 in November 2008, six months after the California Supreme Court decided 4-3 to strike down the state’s ban on gay marriage. The court later upheld the initiative as a valid constitutional amendment but ruled that gay couples who had wed before its passage would remain legally married.
Foreseeing the state court ruling, two same-sex couples filed a lawsuit against Proposition 8 in federal court. That suit produced Walker’s decision and the largely procedural ruling by the Supreme Court three years later.
Polls show that a majority of California voters now support same-sex marriage.
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