In a ruling that delivered a major blow to same-sex marriage proponents in California, the state’s Supreme Court issued a ruling yesterday saying that state officials do not have the right to veto a voter-approved initiative and that the backers of the state’s gay marriage ban have the right to defend the hotly contested ballot initiative in court.
According to The Los Angeles Times, the court ruled unanimously in favor of supporters of Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot initiative in which voters decided to ban same-sex marriage. In August 2010, a district court struck down the ban and because the state’s governor and attorney general declined to defend it in federal court, supporters of the ban stepped forward to do so. A federal appeals court took up the case, but put it on hold in order to ask the state’s highest court to decide whether the sponsors have the legal right to bring the case. Yesterday’s ruling makes it clear that not only do the pro-traditional marriage groups have the right to defend the ban, but state officials do not have the authority to invalidate the will of the people.
“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,” wrote Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakueye.
“In a postelection challenge to a voter-approved initiative measure, the official proponents of the initiative are authorized under California law to appear and assert the state’s interest in the initiative’s validity and to appeal a judgment invalidating the measure when the public officials who ordinarily defend the measure or appeal such a judgment decline to do so,” the chief justice wrote.
“When an initiative is challenged in court, the integrity and effectiveness of the judicial process requires that a competent and spirited defense be presented,” Justice Joyce L. Kennard wrote in a separate concurring opinion. “If public officials refuse to provide that defense, the ability of the initiative proponents to intervene in the pending litigation, and to appeal an adverse judgment … is ‘essential.’”
A contrary holding would allow state officials “to effectively annul voter-approved initiatives simply by declining to defend them,” Kennard concluded.
The state high court’s decision is a considered to be a defeat for gay rights groups, especially because the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals Court indicated earlier this year that it was leaning toward upholding the decision of openly homosexual judge Vaughn Walker to overturn the ban if the issue of standing could be resolved.
The decision now sets the stage for a federal ruling which could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and could affect marriage bans outside California.
“It has been nothing short of shameful to see Governor Jerry Brown, his predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Kamala Harris abdicate their constitutional responsibility to defend Proposition 8 in Court,” said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, a group that supports Prop 8.
“Although today’s ruling from the California Supreme Court confirms that the proponents of Prop 8 have the right to defend their initiative when the state officials refuse to fulfill their sworn duty, it is gratifying to know that the over 7 million Californians who supported the initiative will have a vigorous defense of their decision in our federal courts.”
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