The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the sponsors of California's controversial Proposition 8 did not have the legal standing to appeal a 2010 ruling against the measure, a procedural act that cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California but avoided a nationwide decision.

As David G. Savage, The Times' Supreme Court reporter, writes on Politics Now:

The court’s action, while not a sweeping ruling, sends the case back to California, where state and federal judges and the state’s top officials have said same-sex marriage is a matter of equal rights.

Last fall, the high court agreed to hear a last-chance appeal from the sponsors of the 2008 ballot measure that limited marriage to the union of a man and a woman.

Federal courts in San Francisco had struck down the measure on the grounds that it unfairly discriminated against gays and lesbians who wished to marry.

Usually, the governor and state’s lawyers defend state laws in federal court, but both Gov. Jerry Brown and Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris refused to defend Proposition 8.

Several sponsors of the ballot measure stepped in to defend the law, but there were questions about whether they had legal standing to represent the state in court.

A Supreme Court decision is generally final after 25 days. The 9th Circuit would then presumably lift its hold on Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker’s injunction against Proposition 8. 

Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to enforce Walker’s order statewide and allow same-sex marriages to resume, possibly late next month.

But the fight might not end. Opponents of gay marriage have suggested they might go back to court to try to prevent Brown from enforcing the injunction beyond the couples named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

District judges generally are supposed to apply injunctions narrowly to the parties before them unless they are deciding a class action lawsuit or unless a broad order is the only way to protect the plaintiffs who sued.  The Proposition 8 challenge was not filed as a class action.

Gay rights lawyers say they are confident any effort to limit Walker’s decision will fail. They note district judges have often issued sweeping injunctions affecting millions of people.

Austin R. Nimocks, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom which supported Prop. 8, said in a statement that "the debate over marriage has only just begun."

"The court’s decision does not silence the voices of Americans," Nimocks said. "Marriage -- the union of husband and wife -- will remain timeless, universal, and special, particularly because children need mothers and fathers. ...  Americans will continue advancing the truth about marriage between a man and a woman and why it matters for children, civil society, and limited government.” 

In West Hollywood, a small crowd gathered at the Abbey, a prominent gay bar in West Hollywood, where couples sipped coffee and watched CNN early Wednesday, awaiting word of the Supreme Court’s decisions.  

Kate Sutherland, 27, and her girlfriend, India Allen, 27, stood with their arms around each other. After hearing the justices had struck down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act -- giving legally married same-sex couples equal rights to federal benefits all other married couples receive -- Allen said she was happy, but surprised.

“I can’t put this into words,” she said. “It is so much progress.”

Then the Proposition 8 decision came in.

“Wow,” Allen whispered. “I didn’t think this would happen.”

Assuming the court allows marriages to begin again in California, San Francisco officials have said they would begin holding weddings as early as possible.

In Los Angeles, the county clerk’s office said they were “prepared to accommodate any potential volume increases” in couples seeking marriage licenses.

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