Gay marriage case back into high gear

Thu Nov 17, 2011 5:27pm EST
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By Peter Henderson

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California's Supreme Court cleared the way on Thursday for supporters of the state's same-sex marriage ban to defend it in federal court, a crucial ruling that allows the pitched battle to decide if gay marriage is a U.S. right to go forward.

The case on California's 2008 ban, the voter initiative known as Proposition 8, could set national policy if the U.S. Supreme Court takes it up, and the high court might agree as early as next year to hear it, one lawyer said.

More than 40 U.S. states have outlawed same-sex marriages, and polls show sharp national division on the matter.

The voter-approved ban in the most populous U.S. state has been in legal limbo over a technical issue: whether citizens can defend a ballot initiative when elected officials choose not to.

The state's top court unanimously said they could.

Gay rights attorneys said the ruling would help get a federal appeals court back to the main issue -- whether gay marriage is a constitutional right.

Both sides made their cases on that core issue a year ago to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"We are very hopeful for a relatively prompt 9th Circuit decision vindicating the rights of gays and lesbians under the U.S. Constitution," attorney Ted Olson, fighting for gay marriage, told reporters on a conference call after the ruling.   Continued...