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California Supreme Court refuses to speed up ruling on key issue in gay marriage battle

March 1, 2011 |  6:42 pm

The California Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to speed up its consideration of a key question in the appeal over the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage.

The state high court issued a one-sentence order denying a request for an accelerated briefing and hearing schedule. The court has agreed to determine the legal rights of initiative sponsors but said a hearing  would not be held until September at the earliest.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeal asked the California court to decide whether state law gives initiative sponsors the legal right to defend ballot measures when state officials refuse to do so. Its decision will determine whether Proposition 8 is overturned on narrow procedural grounds with limited impact or whether the case eventually reaches the U.S. Supreme Court on constitutional questions.

The Courage Campaign, an online group that advocates for social justice, issued a statement denouncing the California Supreme Court's refusal to speed up its hearing schedule on the matter.

“Every minute of state sanctioned discrimination is a minute too long," the group said. "The California Supreme Court’s decision to put its own summer vacation plans before the lives of thousands of California families is an outrage, and it must not be allowed to stand.” 

Also Tuesday, California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris urged a federal appeals court to permit same-sex couples to marry during an appeal of last year’s ruling that overturned Proposition 8.

In arguments filed with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Harris asked the court to lift a hold on a federal court order directing the state to permit gays to marry. U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who served on the bench in San Francisco, ruled in August that the marriage ban violated constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.

Harris sided with two same-sex couples who sued to overturn Proposition 8 in arguing that the hold must be removed now that  the appeal is taking more time than expected. 

“For 846 days Proposition 8 has denied equality under law to gay and lesbian couples,” Harris told the court. “Each and every one of those days, same-sex couples have been denied their right to convene loved ones and friends to celebrate marriages sanctioned and protected by California law.”

--Maura Dolan