Skip to main content

Supreme Court dismisses California's Proposition 8 appeal

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Thu June 27, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The high court opts not to consider the issues of the appeal
  • Instead, it rules on whether those who brought the suit to the court were entitled to do so
  • State officials had refused to defend Proposition 8 after a California court suspended it
  • Justice Kennedy, in dissent, says the court's majority undercut the initiative process

What do the Supreme Court rulings mean to you? Share your thoughts on CNN iReport.

Washington (CNN) -- The Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal over same-sex marriage on jurisdictional grounds, ruling Wednesday private parties do not have "standing" to defend California's voter-approved ballot measure barring gay and lesbian couples from state-sanctioned wedlock.

The ruling clears the way for same-sex marriages in California to resume.

The 5-4 decision avoids, for now, a sweeping conclusion on whether same-sex marriage is a constitutional "equal protection" right that would apply to all states.

Read the ruling

At issue was whether the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law prevents states from defining marriage to exclude same-sex couples, and whether a state can revoke same-sex marriage through referendum, as California did, once it already has been recognized.

Same-sex couples get their marriage licenses at the Oakland County Courthouse on Saturday, March 22, in Pontiac, Michigan, a day after a federal judge overturned Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage. Same-sex couples get their marriage licenses at the Oakland County Courthouse on Saturday, March 22, in Pontiac, Michigan, a day after a federal judge overturned Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage.
Photos: Same-sex marriage in U.S.
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: Same-sex marriage in U.S. Photos: Same-sex marriage in U.S.
Toobin: Prop 8 ruling 'puzzling'
Prop 8 attorney: Wonderful day for U.S.
Prop 8 plaintiff: Our family is equal

But a majority of the Supreme Court opted not to rule on those issues. Instead, it ruled on "standing" -- whether those who brought the suit to the court were entitled to do so.

"We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend a state statute when state officials have chosen not to," said Chief Justice John Roberts. He was supported by an unusual coalition: fellow conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and more liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.

By dismissing the case, the court leaves in place the lower court decision in California that allows same-sex marriage to be reinstated. The federal appeals court stay on the decision will be lifted.

What's next for gay rights movement?

Within hours of the ruling, California's Gov. Jerry Brown said, "I have directed the California Department of Public Health to advise the state's counties that they must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California as soon as the Ninth Circuit confirms the stay is lifted."

Brown, a Democrat, said he interpreted the high court opinion as making Prop 8 unconstitutional and unenforceable. The state's Attorney General Kamala Harris agreed and urged the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco to issue its mandate "immediately." But by law, that cannot normally be done so for at least 25 days, to allow for possible new legal challenges.

As soon as the court lifts the stay, "the wedding bells will ring" said Harris on Wednesday. "This is a huge day for California."

But there is legal uncertainty whether the high court's ruling could be enforced statewide, or limited to only a few jurisdictions.

It was act two in a closely watched pair of high court appeals over state and federal laws and the limits of recognizing the ability of gay and lesbian couples to wed. The outcome of the rulings gives same-sex couples much to be encouraged about.

California voters approved Proposition 8 in 2008 with 52% of the vote shortly after the state Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriages are legal. The measure put gay and lesbian marriages on hold in the state, but a federal appeals court later rule Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.

Two of the original plaintiffs -- Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, a Burbank, California, couple who want to marry but could not because of Proposition 8 -- contended the state was discriminating against them because of their sexuality.

"This is about our freedom and our liberty," Katami told CNN. "We are not trying to topple marriage. We are not trying to redefine marriage. What we are trying to say is that equality is the backbone of our country."

Both they and Kristin Perry and Sandy Stier, the other plaintiff couple from Berkeley, were in the courtroom when the rulings came out. They were cheered when emerging from the court building.

Their views were echoed by fellow same-sex marriage supporters, who rallied outside the court with the hope that the justices will eventually issue a broad ruling to strike down bans nationwide.

In dissent, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the court's majority ignored the initiative process that led to the passage of Proposition 8.

Key quotes from the ruling

"What the court fails to grasp or accept is the basic premise of the initiative process. And it is this. The essence of democracy is that the right to make law rests in the people and flows to the government, not the other way around. Freedom resides first in the people without need of a grant from government," he said. "The California initiative process embodies these principles and has done so for over a century. ... In California and the 26 other states that permit initiatives and popular referendums, the people have exercised their own inherent sovereign right to govern themselves. The court today frustrates that choice."

Kennedy was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor.

Some Prop 8 supporters argued the high court ruling means the voter referendum remains in place and enforceable.

"Proposition 8 being the law of the state of California makes it clear that marriage is only one man and one woman. The four plaintiffs that brought this lawsuit may have a right to get marriage licenses issued to them. But this was not a class-action lawsuit. It does not apply statewide, " said Austin Nimocks, senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom. "Because there's no appellate decision holding it unconstitutional under the California Constitution, which is what controls this interpretation, Proposition 8 remains the law of that state.

Kevin has a family: A same-sex couple's remarkable journey

The case is Hollingsworth v. Perry (12-144).

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Same-sex marriage debate
updated 10:54 AM EDT, Fri March 28, 2014
The federal government will recognize gay marriages in Michigan that occurred between recent conflicting court rulings, Attorney General Eric Holder announced.
updated 8:37 AM EST, Thu February 27, 2014
A federal judge struck down Texas' same-sex marriage ban, thanks to a sweeping decision holding that its current prohibition has no "legitimate governmental purpose."
updated 5:46 PM EST, Thu February 27, 2014
Arizona's divisive SB1026 -- which supporters claim protected religious freedom, and critics say served as cover for businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians -- didn't come from nowhere.
updated 12:24 AM EST, Fri February 14, 2014
A federal judge in Virginia has struck down the commonwealth's ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, according to court documents.
updated 4:23 PM EST, Wed February 12, 2014
gay couple health insurance jeff jones and Nate Walker
A federal judge ruled that Kentucky's denial of recognition for same-sex marriages violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law.
updated 2:46 PM EDT, Fri August 2, 2013
Legally married same-sex spouses seeking U.S. visas will now be treated the same as opposite-sex spouses, Secretary of State John Kerry announced.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu August 1, 2013
They've been a couple for two years and are eager to raise two children together. But it wasn't until Thursday that Holli Bartelt and Amy Petrich were allowed to legally wed.
updated 8:26 AM EDT, Thu June 27, 2013
The Supreme Court has struck down a key part of congressional law that denies to legally married same-sex couples the same benefits provided to heterosexual spouses.
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Thu June 27, 2013
The ruling permits same-sex couples in California to legally marry.
updated 9:31 AM EDT, Thu June 27, 2013
More than 50 years ago, military brass sat down the couple who'd become Susan Green's parents.
updated 8:04 AM EDT, Thu June 27, 2013
Thousands of same-sex couples across the U.S. were thrilled by the rulings. But in 37 states, some same-sex couples weren't as happy as they'd hoped to be.
updated 3:31 PM EDT, Sat June 29, 2013
A Hollywood genius might have been hard-pressed to produce a more perfect ending to Melanie Servetas' story.
Find out which states match your values when it comes to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
updated 12:05 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Here's a look at what you need to know about same-sex marriage in the U.S. and worldwide.
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Thu August 29, 2013
Same-sex marriage is in the spotlight on the national legal and political stages. Read what's behind the two landmark cases.
Which states allow same-sex marriage, and which states don't?
updated 8:18 PM EDT, Tue June 25, 2013
11-year-old Kevin thought it would be neat if daddy and papa tied the knot on the same day the couple met 15-years earlier on a softball field.
updated 10:58 AM EST, Sat January 19, 2013
Gail Dosik walked into a party, hung up her coat and fell in love; 26 years later, she was finally able to make the beautiful stranger she met that night her legally wedded wife.
updated 4:21 PM EDT, Thu June 7, 2012
On her wedding day, Jessica Port wore a tan and black dress to match the tan button-down shirt and patterned necktie of her spouse-to-be, Virginia Anne Cowan.
ADVERTISEMENT