The California Supreme Court's decision this week to reject an attempt to revive Proposition 8 does not bar future attempts to stop gay marriages, but the chance of any new bid succeeding appears dim.
The state high court's action Wednesday ended the pending legal challenges over the 2008 ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage.
The court issued its decision in a brief order that did not explain the justices' reasoning.
Andy Pugno, chief legal counsel for ProtectMarriage, the sponsor of Proposition 8, said the California court's rejection of the group's challenge "leaves grave doubts about the future of the initiative process in our state."
"Now voters will be less confident than ever that their votes will mean something," Pugno said. "When politicians disregard the law, and the courts refuse to get involved, what are we left with?"
Austin R. Nimocks, senior counsel for a group that joined with ProtectMarriage in trying to revive Proposition 8, said Wednesday's decision "does not end the debate about marriage in California."
"Though the current California officials are unwilling to enforce the state Constitution, we remain hopeful that one day Californians will elect officials who will," said Nimocks, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom, which litigates religious liberty issues.
Nimocks charged that state officials, who refused to defend Proposition 8, had "silenced more than 7 million Californians who clearly expressed their views about marriage."
The anti-gay marriage groups have not ruled out a future challenge. They could ask a lower state court to review their legal arguments, but any ruling would eventually wind up before the California Supreme Court.
A county clerk also could ask a federal judge to intervene, but his or her ruling would go to the same federal appeals court that overturned Proposition 8.
The backers of Proposition 8 have argued that Gov. Jerry Brown lacked authority to order county clerks to marry same-sex couples. They also contend that a 2010 injunction against the initiative did not apply statewide.
A federal district judge issued that injunction in a ruling that found Proposition 8 unconstitutional. ProtectMarriage, but not the state, appealed that ruling all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The injunction was "stayed," or put on hold, during the appeals.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that ProtectMarriage lacked "standing" — the legal ability to appeal. That left only the district judge's decision in place, and district court rulings do not create precedent that other courts must follow.
But the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided two days later to lift a hold on the trial judge's decision, and Brown quickly ordered clerks to issue gay couples marriage licenses. The weddings began almost immediately.
Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris rushed to San Francisco City Hall after the 9th Circuit acted to marry one of two gay couples who sued California over Proposition 8 in federal court.
Harris said Wednesday that the California Supreme Court decision meant that "equality and freedom triumph."
"I applaud the court's decision and my office will continue to defend the civil rights of all Californians," Harris said.
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