A week after thousands took to the streets across the country to protest the passage of California's controversial Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage, the California Supreme Court voted 6 to 1 on Wednesday to review legal challenges to voter initiative as early as March.
The Los Angeles Times reported that while the court did not rule to allow gay marriages to resume as it mulls a final decision, given the complexity of the issue, it did move to act much more quickly on hearing the legal challenges to Prop 8 than legal scholars had expected. Opponents of the measure are seeking to have the court rule to overturn it and reinstate gay marriages in California.
The swiftness of the court's action suggests that it wants to resolve all the legal issues surrounding the proposition, including the fate of existing gay marriages, in one ruling, the Times reported. Some analysts suggested that scheduling a hearing so quickly was a good sign for the challengers, though others said it did not give any indication of which way the court might be leaning.
"If the justices were really leaning towards upholding Prop 8, and that was clear, they would have wanted to do it as quickly as possible and put the issue to rest," UCLA law professor Brad Sears told the paper, adding that the delay could indicate that the justices were divided and needed time to resolve the issues.
While some gay-rights advocates praised the court for acting so quickly to review the measure, others were disappointed that the court did not vote to allow same-sex marriages to resume while awaiting the final ruling. The challengers are seeking to overturn Prop 8 based on a number of arguments, including claims that the provision violated the separation of powers doctrine in the California Constitution and that the measure took away the ability of California courts to ensure equal protection for minorities who have historically suffered discrimination.
On November 4, the state ballot provision amending the state Constitution to restrict the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman passed by a 52 to 47 percent margin. Since that day, opponents have filed six lawsuits aiming to overturn the measure.
The passage of Prop 8 came after the Supreme Court of California had overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriage in May, paving the way for thousands of gay couples to legally marry in only the second U.S. state to make marriage licenses available to same-sex partners.
Despite the challenge and possibility of an overturning vote, supporters of Prop 8 applauded the court's action, according to the Times. "We see today as a grand slam," said Andy Pugno, general counsel of ProtectMarriage.com. "Everything we asked for was granted," he added, citing the dissenting judge's vote as an indication that "she thought the lawsuits had ... little merit."
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he expects the court to overturn the proposition (an outcome he appears to favor), and his office issued a statement saying, "The governor believes the Supreme Court ought to bring clarity to this issue."