After court rules, California gay marriage fight may go on

Wed Jun 19, 2013 1:11am EDT
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By Peter Henderson

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The fight over legalizing gay marriage in the most populous U.S. state may go back to the ballot box in 2014 with California voters asked once again to settle the matter even after the Supreme Court's expected ruling this month on the issue.

Experts believe the top court is unlikely to proclaim a national right to same-sex marriage in its decisions. The court is set to rule on a challenge to California's ban on same-sex marriage and on a provision of federal law denying certain benefits for married same-sex couples.

At issue is California's 2008 prohibition on same-sex marriage, known as Proposition 8. Lower federal courts struck down the ban, and a high court majority appears likely to rule in a way that would affect only Californians.

A vast array of legal issues, from the procedural question of who can legally defend a ballot proposition to more consequential questions of states' rights, leaves room for continuing uncertainty over the fate of Proposition 8. That has prompted each side to prepare a Plan B.

California could help to shape the national agenda again.

California voters in 2008 ended a summer of court-approved gay marriage by adopting Proposition 8. The proposal, backed by 52 percent of voters, changed the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

That enraged and energized the national gay rights movement while offering social conservatives proof that their message resonated even in a state known for its liberal leanings.

For gay marriage supporters, buoyed by laws permitting gay marriage in now 12 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, a California ballot initiative would be a chance to recover from their biggest loss.   Continued...

A man carries flags at a rally in support of same-sex marriage at the State of California Supreme Court in San Francisco, California March 26, 2013. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith