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California Supreme Court will decide key issue in same-sex-marriage legal fight

February 16, 2011 |  2:48 pm

The California Supreme Court decided Wednesday to determine whether the sponsors of Proposition 8 have special authority to defend the anti-gay marriage initiative in court.

The state high court, meeting in closed session, agreed to a request by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to determine the status California law gives initiative sponsors.

The court was unanimous in deciding to accept the case. The court's order set an expedited briefing schedule to permit a hearing by "as early as September." The court must rule on a case 90 days after oral argument.

A panel of the 9th Circuit has indicated it would have to dismiss an appeal by proponents of Proposition 8 on procedural grounds unless the California court determines that the initiative's sponsors have legal standing.  A procedural ruling would not affect gay marriage outside of California.

ProtectMarriage, the group that sponsored the 2008 anti-gay-marriage initiative, appealed a federal judge’s ruling in August that found the measure unconstitutional. State officials, who under law clearly have the right to appeal such orders, refused to do so.

The state high court already has ruled twice on same-sex marriage.  In a May 2008 ruling, the court voted 4-3 to end California’s ban on gay nuptials.  Voters reinstated the ban six months later.

The state court rejected a challenge of Proposition 8 the following year, ruling 6-1 that it was not an illegal revision of the state Constitution.

Both conservative and liberal groups are expected to urge the California court to rule that backers of ballot measures have authority, or “standing,” to defend them.  Such a ruling would pave the way for a 9th Circuit decision on Proposition 8’s constitutionality, which likely would go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and have national impact.

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--Maura Dolan

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