(02-16) 14:59 PST SAN FRANCISCO -- The state Supreme Court re-entered the battle over same-sex marriage today, agreeing to decide whether sponsors of a voter-approved measure banning gay and lesbian weddings have the right to defend it in court.
The answer could decide whether California continues to enforce Proposition 8, a November 2008 initiative that halted same-sex marriages six months after the state's high court had legalized them.
The justices said they would hear arguments as early as September.
The court unanimously granted a request by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to define the status of initiative sponsors under California law.
That became a critical issue after Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled in August that Prop. 8 discriminated unconstitutionally against gays and lesbians, based on sexual orientation and gender, by denying them the right to marry their chosen partner.
Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Attorney General Jerry Brown declined to appeal on behalf of the state. Prop. 8's sponsors, a conservative religious coalition called Protect Marriage, had defended the measure in Walker's court, but their authority to appeal his ruling is uncertain.
A 1997 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in an Arizona case expressed "grave doubts" that the sponsors of a ballot measure could stand in for state officials who refused to appeal a ruling that overturned the measure.
Protect Marriage contended that California law confers a higher status on initiatives, as the voice of the people, and noted that the state court has allowed sponsors to argue in favor of a measure's validity.
The California Supreme Court has never decided, however, whether backers of a ballot measure could stand in for state officials. The federal appeals court asked the California court to decide that question in December and put the case on hold while it awaits the answer.
Lawyers for two gay and lesbian couples and the city of San Francisco, which sued to overturn Prop. 8, argue that Protect Marriage has no right to appeal Walker's ruling.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle
I'm going to attempt to untangle this for you guys, since it was giving me quite a bit of trouble to understand.
Last time on Proposition 8 Watch*: Back in August 2010, Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that CA's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage, was unconstitutional. He ruled that same-sex marriages should be allowed. The pro-Prop 8 groups decided to appeal, and the Appeals Court put a stay on Judge Walker's decision until an appeal could be heard.
However, there was a pressing issue: usually it falls to the governor and attorney general to defend the proposition on behalf of the state (re: voters); however, both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown declined to do so. Because of this, Protect Marriage, the group that sponsored Prop 8, wanted to pursue the appeal in place of the governor/AG, but the Appeals Court was unsure of whether or not this group of people would have the legal standing to pursue the appeal.
In December 2010, Protect Marriage made their case to the Appeals Court that they should have standing (EDIT: actually, they made both the arguments for standing and the actual appeals arguments), and we've been waiting to see what the court said. The Appeals Court made a request to the California Supreme Court to rule on the legal standing issue (EDIT: this is because standing is an issue of CA state law, and the 9th Circuit Appeals Court is a federal court)
Today, the CASupreme Court decided that they would rule on whether or not Protect Marriage has standing--and this is an issue that has never been ruled on before (i.e., if a group of citizens can appeal instead of the state). The ruling could be as early as September.
So, what the September ruling will deal with:
If the CA SC rules that Protect Marriage does not have standing, the Appeals Court will likely refuse the appeal. (EDIT: meaning that Judge Walker's ruling would stay)
If the CA SC rules that Protect Marriage does have legal standing, the case can go back to the Appeals Court for an actual ruling (and depending on how that case goes, potentially get appealed all the way to the US Supreme Court).
*Apologies for this very, very rough summary. Hoping I got everything right and...relatively neutral. That said, please correct me if I've gotten any of the details wrong.
Edit: hllangel clarifies a few points and links an article on CA precedent
Source: San Francisco Chronicle
Another article from the Los Angeles Times with some additional information.
See also the ever-helpful Prop 8 Trial tracker
tl;dr: Prop 8 is going back to court to decide if it can go back to court, shit never ends.