The California Supreme Court has ruled that Protect Marriage has legal standing to appeal Judge Walker’s decision on Prop 8, and can continue their court case.
We had been waiting for quite some time now on the next step forward in the glacial movement of the Prop 8 case towards some kind of conclusion. For the past few months, that’s meant waiting on a decision about whether or not Protect Marriage, the Yes on 8 side, has legal standing to pursue the appeal Judge Walker’s decision that Prop 8 was discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Experts were not necessarily optimistic about Protect Marriage’s being denied standing, which would mean being told that they didn’t have a legitimate basis to pursue an appeal after the state of California didn’t do so itself. Protect Marriage believes that the state is shirking responsibility by refusing to defend Prop 8, and that they should be allowed to pick up the slack. California State Supreme Court justices seemed reluctant to entertain the thought of denying standing, voicing concerns that it would set a precedent that would dramatically reduce the power of voter initiatives, especially if they’re ones that the state just didn’t feel like defending. On the other hand, however, Protect Marriage’s being denied standing would make it that much more likely that a federal court would also find them without standing, which would prevent Prop 8 from going to the Supreme Court (although that might not be such a bad thing), and would instead mean that the court case simply fell apart and marriage equality could return to California.
The court’s ruling today doesn’t mean anything definitive about the future of Prop 8 or marriage in California. It does mean that the case is much more likely to head to the Supreme Court, which is a momentous thing, but not necessarily either good or bad. A decision about the constitutionality of Prop 8 in the Supreme Court would have huge ramifications for the nation as a whole; if Prop 8 were declared unconstitutional on a federal level, it would set a precedent across America as far as the legality of same-sex marriage bans. On the other hand, if the case does make it to the Supreme Court and Judge Walker’s ruling is not upheld there, we could lose a lot of the legal ground we’ve gained for marriage equality so far. Which is where things like Obama’s nominees to the Supreme Court, like Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, become a factor. One would hope that if Protect Marriage’s performance in court is as laughable as it was in the original trial, then the Supreme Court might be the best thing that’s ever happened to the gay families of California (and the rest of the country). But if marginalized communities in America have learned anything through generations of activism, it’s that the court system isn’t always something you can count on. Today’s ruling from the California Supreme Court means we will probably have the chance to find out.