More than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex weddings to resume in California, the state's highest court today rejected the last remaining legal challenge to the unions.
The state Supreme Court dismissed a last-minute petition by supporters of Proposition 8 -- which was approved by California voters in 2008 and banned same-sex marriage -- asking that the measure continue to be enforced in the state. They argued that a 2010 ruling by a federal judge that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional was not enough to overturn the law.
The California Supreme Court did not detail the reasons for its decision, simply dismissing the petition.
The latest petition was filed following the U.S. Supreme Court's June 26 ruling that opponents of same-sex marriage lacked legal standing to appeal the federal judge's decision that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. Two days later, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal lifted a stay it had placed on the ruling while appeals were pending, clearing the way for same-sex marriages to resume in the state.
That led to the last-minute appeals by Proposition 8 supporters hoping to keep the measure in place. San Diego County Clerk Ernest Dronenburg Jr. also filed court papers with the state's highest court asking for clarification on whether his office was required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but he agreed earlier this month to withdraw the petition in light of the appeal by Prop 8 supporters.
In March 2000, California voters approved Prop 22, which specified in state law that only marriages between a man and a woman are valid in California. But in May of 2008, the state Supreme Court ruled the law was unconstitutional because it discriminated against gays, and an estimated 18,000 same-sex couples got married in the ensuing months.
Opponents of same-sex marriage quickly got Prop 8 on the November 2008 ballot to amend the state constitution, and it was approved by a margin of 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent.
In May 2009, the California Supreme Court upheld Prop 8 but also ruled that the unions of roughly 18,000 same-sex couples who were wed in 2008 prior to its passage would remain valid.
Same-sex marriage supporters took their case to federal court, and U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled in August 2010 that Proposition 8 "both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation."
Backers of Proposition 8 -- ProtectMarriage.com -- appealed to the 9th Circuit, because then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and then-Attorney General Jerry Brown declined to do so. The appellate court heard arguments in 2011 but put a decision on hold while it awaited a state Supreme Court ruling on the ability of Prop 8 backers to press the case forward despite the state's refusal to appeal.
The state Supreme Court decided that Prop 8 supporters had legal standing, so the 9th Circuit moved ahead with its consideration of the case, hearing more arguments on a motion by Prop 8 backers asking that Walker's ruling be thrown out because the judge was in a long-term same-sex relationship that he had not disclosed.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the proposition's primary impact was to "lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California."
That ruling led to the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.