SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. Backers of Proposition 8 won a major victory Nov. 17 when the California Supreme Court ruled the group has a legal right to defend the measure in court since elected officials have declined to do so.
The non-binding decision means the case returns to the federal level where justices with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will decide the amendment's constitutionality. Earlier this year, federal appeals justices deferred the matter to the state's highest court for direction on a technical aspect of the case called "standing," the legal term designating a vested stake or interest in the lawsuit's outcome.
"It is essential to the integrity of the initiative process ... that there be someone to assert the state's interest in an initiative's validity on behalf of the people when the public officials who normally assert that interest decline to do so," Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote in her opinion.
The decision was widely expected after justices, during a hearing earlier this year, appeared reluctant to give elected officials that much power over a voter-approved measure.
"We are delighted that the Supreme Court has clearly reaffirmed our right, as the official proponents of Prop. 8, to defend over seven million Californians who amended their own State Constitution to restore traditional marriage," said Andy Pugno, general counsel for Protect Marriage, the grassroots organization that drafted the successful amendment. "This victory is an enormous boost for Proposition 8 as well as the integrity of the initiative process itself.
"This ruling is a huge disaster for the homosexual marriage extremists. The court totally rejected their demands that their lawsuit to invalidate Proposition 8 should win by default with no defense. Their entire strategy relied on finding a biased judge and keeping the voters completely unrepresented. Today that all crumbled before their eyes."
Opponents of Proposition 8 unsuccessfully argued that the only parties with standing to challenge an amendment are the governor or the state attorney general. But Protect Marriage attorneys argued that the initiative sponsors must be able to defend a measure if elected officials decline to represent the voters. By not allowing the initiative's backers to defend the measure, they argued, elected officials would effectively have veto power over the will of the people.
The state high court agreed.
"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," the chief justice went on to write.
With the issue of standing likely resolved, the appeals court is now expected to focus on the issue of constitutionality of the amendment, which declares marriage in California to be between one man and one woman. Last year, Judge Vaughn Walker, who later disclosed he was in a long-term same-sex relationship, overturned Proposition 8 on constitutional grounds.
"Today's decision is a critical step in our three-year battle to uphold marriage between a man and a woman," Pugno said. "Now we can return our focus to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and our appeal to reverse the lower court's decision declaring Proposition 8 and traditional marriage itself 'unconstitutional.'"
Either way the court decides, the matter is expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.