01:56 - Source: CNN
White House weighs in on gay marriage

Story highlights

Obama administration files formal brief in same-sex marriage appeal

Brief says that gay and lesbian couples have equal protection right to wed

But administration refuses to argue that right should be extended

Two same-sex marriage cases now before the Supreme Court

In a bold political and legal move, the Obama administration formally expressed its support for same-sex marriage in California, setting up a high stakes political and constitutional showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court over a fast-evolving and contentious issue.

In a broadly worded legal brief on Thursday that senior government sources said had President Barack Obama’s personal input and blessing, the Justice Department asserted gay and lesbian couples in the nation’s most populous state have the same “equal protection” right to wed and that voters there were not empowered to ban it.

“Use of a voter initiative to promote democratic self-governance cannot save a law like Proposition 8 that would otherwise violate equal protection,” said the brief. “Prejudice may not however be the basis for differential treatment under the law.”

California’s 2008 Proposition 8 referendum revoked the right of same-sex couples to wed after lawmakers and the state courts previously allowed it.

While the administration weighed in on the situation in California, it specifically refused to argue the constitutional right for same-sex couples to wed there should be extended to the 41 states that currently define marriage as between one man and one woman.