What the SCOTUS decision on Prop 8 really means


Proposition 8 has been rejected by the highest court of the United States! That means same-sex marriages can resume tomorrow, right?

Uh… not exactly. And the Supreme Court technically only ruled against hearing the case, which has little or no ramifications for other states with marriage equality bans. It is still definitely good news, just not as good as it could have been.

California’s courts have consistently ruled in favor of marriage equality in the last few years, and because the Supreme Court refused to issue a ruling at all, that means the most recent decisions still stand. The process is not automatic, but there are only a few legal steps remaining, and Lambda Legal estimates that it will only take about a month before California has legal same-sex marriage, once and for all.

To give a longer version, and a breakdown of what the court said:

When Proposition 8 passed in California, amending the State Constitution to define marriage as “a union between a man and a woman,” opponents of the law challenged Prop 8 as a violation of their equal rights; as they were suing the state itself, state and local officials, including the governor, were named as defendants.

However, those officials refused to defend the law; thus, the initiative’s official proponents were allowed to defend it. In the resulting trial, the District Court ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.

When the initiative’s defenders appealed the decision, the Ninth Circuit asked the California Supreme Court if said defenders actually had the authority to essentially act in the place of the state, since they had in fact stepped in when the state had no interest in defending the measure. The California Supreme Court ruled that it did, thus allowing the case to go to the United States Supreme Court in a last-ditch effort to get not only another answer, but one from the country’s highest court.

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court chose to reverse the California Supreme Court’s decision, and ruled that the Proposition 8 supporters do not in fact have the required legal standing to appeal the District Court’s order.

This does not mean that marriage equality is automatically the law of the land in California again, but it is very close. Supporters of Prop 8 have twenty-five days to ask for another hearing, after the Supreme Court’s ruling becomes final—and such petitions are rarely granted.

When the ruling is final, a mandate will be issued, making the rulings against Prop 8 take effect, and same-sex couples will regain the right to legally marry.

Lambda Legal has also cautioned that “couples should wait until the Supreme Court ruling is final and the Ninth Circuit issues a mandate to the District Court before attempting to obtain a marriage license or to marry, to ensure that your marriage is valid.”

The fight isn’t completely over, either—but it’s almost certainly safe to start looking at wedding venues and sending out “save the date” cards if you anticipate wedding bells in your future.


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