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Californians anxiously await word from high court on gay marriage

December 1, 2012 |  8:09 am

Californians on both sides of the gay marriage question are anxiously awaiting word on whether the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the state's ban on gay marriage.

The high court took no action Friday on a series of pending appeals involving gay marriage, putting off until at least next week a decision on which cases to hear.

Depending on what happens, gay marriages could resume in the state in coming days.

At San Francisco City Hall, officials are preparing for a possible crush of same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses and making contingency plans for demonstrations.

"We will have people coming to celebrate, and people coming to get married, and it wouldn't be unusual that we would have protesters," San Francisco City Atty. spokesman Matt Dorsey said.

The justices met behind closed doors to debate cases involving the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8,  the voter initiative that limits marriage to a man and a woman. The court said only that it had agreed to hear two new business cases.

Nonetheless, the court is almost certain to review at least one of the gay marriage cases.

INTERACTIVE MAP: Gay marriage in the U.S.

The U.S. appeals courts in Boston and New York have struck down the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that denies federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples. That means the federal law is constitutional in much of the nation, but not in other parts. The high court must step in to resolve that issue.

It is not certain the court will want to decide the fate of Proposition 8. It was struck down last year by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on the grounds that California voters took away from gays and lesbians a right to marry that they had won in the state courts.

If the justices were to deny an appeal in that case, it would clear the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California, but it would not set a national precedent. The court will announce Monday morning which appeals have been turned down, and it is possible the Proposition 8 appeal will be dismissed then.

To give the city time to prepare, the San Francisco city attorney's office this week asked the appeals court for at least 24 hours' notice before issuing the go-ahead for marriages, "to ensure the health and safety of San Francisco's residents and visitors."

-- David G. Savage and Jessica Garrison