Dec 072012
Gay marriage waiting game as Supreme Court mulls Prop. 8

Gay marriage supporters and opponents were still awaiting word from the U.S. Supreme Court on whether it would take up the issue of gay marriage in California — a decision that could come Friday.

Justices are expected to decide whether to review a case concerning Proposition 8, a 2008 state ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage.

If the high court does not choose to hear the case, a federal appeals court ruling that found Proposition 8 unconstitutional would stand, clearing the way for same-sex marriages to begin in California. If the court decides to hear the case, gay marriage would remain on hold until a later ruling.

The justices are discussing the pending appeals at their private conference on Friday, the last such meeting before the long holiday recess. It is not uncommon for the justices to discuss an appeal for two weeks or more before voting on whether to grant it.

Waiting for the Supreme Court to announce its decision has been difficult for same-sex couples trying to plan wedding ceremonies, said Lisa Phillian, owner of Rainbow Weddings in Rosemead.

Her chapel and wedding services business handles about 40 weddings a year. Every couple she meets has several contingency plans, depending on what legal options they believe will be available. And every year since she opened her business in 2008 there have been more options that couples have to consider, Phillian said.

“The businessperson in me would love to see them not hear the case and we could have the marriages immediately,” Phillian said. “The activist in me really wants to fight it all over the country.”

Jessica Garrison and Frank Shyong


What is before the court?

Four years ago, California voters approved Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage. In 2009, the American Foundation for Equal Rights sued on behalf of two gay California couples who wanted to get married. A district judge found Proposition 8 unconstitutional. In February, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Proponents of Proposition 8 asked the Supreme Court to review the case.

Why was there no action today?

The justices had been set to discuss the Proposition 8 case at a private conference last Friday, along with several cases challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act. After that conference, the justices released a list of cases they would take up in June, and the Proposition 8 case was not on the list, leading many to speculate the court may have decided not to hear the case. That would let the 9th Circuit ruling stand, clearing the way for same-sex marriage in California unless the Supreme Court gets involved.

When is the next time the Supreme Court could take action on the Prop. 8 case?

The justices will discuss the matter again this Friday in another private conference.

How long could this drag out?

The justices could announce as soon as this Friday that they are taking the case. They could also announce next Monday that they are not taking the case. Or they could continue to discuss it at subsequent conferences early next year. They still have time to take it up in June. They could also hear it next fall.

How quickly could same-sex marriages resume in California?

If the court decides not to take up the case, marriages could resume in California within days.

If the high court decides to review Hollingsworth vs. Perry, it could lead to a historic victory legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. But gay activists are well aware that the court could rule against them and throw the movement back at a time when same-sex marriage has seen a series of election victories at the state level.

Opponents of gay marriage, by contrast, are eager for the Supreme Court to weigh in and are hoping it will block the growing legalization of same-sex unions.

What is the reaction to the lack of action?

Many were disappointed. In West Hollywood, Chi Chi La Rue said he was “exhausted” by the ups and downs of the case. “It’s 2012 and people are getting married when they meet at casinos in Las Vegas,” LaRue said. “Why can’t two people who are legitimately in love get married whether they are straight or gay?”

But Adam Umhoefer, executive director of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which is fighting to overturn Proposition 8, was more sanguine.

“We understand that it is a complex case, and if they need another week to reach the right decision, we’re fine with that,” he said.