NPR

Calif. Prop 8 Supporters Can Defend Gay Marriage Ban

The California Supreme Court ruled today that the sponsors of the state's voter-approved amendment banning same-sex marriage have the right to defend the ban in court. Last year, a judge ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional. The amendment's sponsors asked to defend the ban at the appellate level since both the governor and the attorney general have declined to do so.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

In California today, the State Supreme Court issued a ruling that could bring the debate over same-sex marriage one step closer to the U.S. Supreme Court. The California justices ruled that the sponsors of Proposition 8, the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, has the legal standing to defend the measure in court.

NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: First, let's be clear that today's ruling has little to do with the constitutional merits of Prop 8. That initiative was struck down as unconstitutional by a federal judge more than a year ago. Both former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and then attorney general Jerry Brown took the unusual position of declining to appeal, so the sponsors of Prop 8 took it upon themselves to file an appeal before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

But that court said that, before it could consider the constitutional issues, it needed to know whether the Prop 8 sponsors have a legal right under California law to defend their initiative. The California justices, in a unanimous decision, say yes.

Andrew Pugno is the general counsel for ProtectMarriage.com.

ANDREW PUGNO: We're just delighted. The court has reaffirmed our right as the official proponents of Prop 8 to defend over seven million Californians who voted to amend their own state constitution to restore traditional marriage.

GONZALES: In very strong language, the justices say it is essential to the integrity of the initiative process that someone assert the state's interest in an initiative's validity on behalf of the people when public officials decline to do so. The justices continue, saying that neither the governor, the attorney general nor any other executive or legislative official has the authority to veto or invalidate an initiative measure that has been approved by the voters.

Andrew Pugno.

PUGNO: So what we have here is an expression of unity by the court, saying the initiative process needs to be protected and its integrity defended and, regardless of the merits of whatever the issue is, that the people have to be represented.

GONZALES: The ruling is a setback for those who favor same-sex marriage. Shannon Minter, a spokesman for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, calls the ruling a disappointment.

SHANNON MINTER: We're now going to be held hostage by private individuals who can put forward even the most kind of hateful and discriminatory measures that are blatantly unconstitutional and they now have the power to force an appeal when a federal court strikes down such an initiative.

GONZALES: But Attorney Theodore Olson, the conservative jurist who has argued before the courts in favor of same-sex marriage, is putting a positive spin on today's ruling.

THEODORE OLSON: This frees up the 9th Circuit to go ahead and decide the constitutional questions on the merits that due process and equal protection rights of gay and lesbian citizens in California to get married like all other citizens in California.

GONZALES: A three judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit has already heard the oral arguments on the constitutional merits of Prop 8. It isn't known how soon the court will issue its ruling, and regardless of the finding, the 9th Circuit is expected by all parties to be just a legal stop before the matter goes to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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