Supreme Court rules against California’s Proposition 8

The Supreme Court ruled that proponents of California’s Proposition 8 did not have standing to appeal a federal district court’s decision to overturn the 2008 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage because they could not show how they would be directly “injured” if same-sex couples were allowed to get married.

“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion in Hollingsworth v. Perry.

Roberts, whose opinion was joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan, pointed out that “to have standing, a litigant must seek relief for an injury that affects him in a ‘personal and individual way.’”

Since the Prop. 8 proponent lacked standing, the high court did not rule on the merits of the case and instead vacated the Ninth Circuit’s judgment, which means that the district court’s decision to invalidate Proposition 8 stands.

“Our plaintiffs now get to go back to California and – together with every other citizen of California – marry the person they love,” said David Boies, one of the attorneys representing the two same-sex couples – Kristin Perry, Sandy Stier, Jeffrey Zarrillo, and Paul Katami – who challenged Prop. 8 before the Supreme Court.

Boies explained that Justice Robert’s ruling on the standing – a procedural issue – is important because it affirmed that “allowing everyone to marry the person that they love, regardless of sexual orientation, did not – could not – harm anyone.”

“They cannot point to anything that harms them because these two loving [same-sex] couples and couples like them throughout California are now going to be able to get married,” Boies said.

Furthermore, the court’s ruling on standing made clear that “those people who want to deny same-sex couples the benefits of equal protection and due process under the United States Constitution cannot do so simply they do not like the notion,” according to California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

“The United States Supreme Court in essence declared today they are bystander, they are sitting in the sidelines, they can have their freedom of expression but they cannot deny Americans, they cannot deny citizens of this country equal protection and due process under the law,” said Harris.

Shortly after the decision was handed down, Kristin Perry, standing besides her partner Sandy Stier, said the court has sent an important message of equality to tens of thousands of families in California and across America.

“We believe from the very beginning that the importance of this case was to send a message to the children of this country that you are just as good as everybody else no matter who you love, no matter who your parents love,” said Perry. “Today, we can go back to California and say to our own children – all four of our boys – ‘Your family is just as good as everybody else’s family. We love you as much as anybody else’s parents love their kids. And we’re going to be equal. Now, we will be married and we will be equal to every other family in California.”

California Attorney General Kamala Harris has asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to immediately lift the stay on the district court’s decision to invalidate Prop. 8 to allow same-sex couples to marry.

“I ask that the Ninth Circuit lift this stay immediately, because gay and lesbian couples in California have waited long enough for their full civil rights,” said Harris.

Harris also wrote a letter reminding the State Department of Public Health “to instruct county clerks and recorders in all 58 counties to resume issuing marriage licenses to and recording the marriages of same sex couples” as soon as the Ninth Circuit lifts the stay.

Proponents of Prop. 8 expressed disappointment with the high court’s decision.

“We’re disappointed about the Supreme Court’s decision on standing,” said Austin Nimocks, senior co-counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization that defended Prop. 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court. “The proponents of Proposition 8, the legal team defending it, will continue to defend Proposition 8 unless or until there is a valid court decision from a court with jurisdiction that strikes it down.”

Background on Prop. 8:

Proposition 8 was approved by California voters in 2008. The ballot measure amended the California constitution to recognize “only marriage between a man and woman” as “valid”.

Perry, her partner, along with Jeffrey Zarrillo and Paul Katami, sued the California government – including the then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Attorney General Jerry Brown, and other officials in charge of implementing Prop. 8 – in federal court to block the enforcement of Prop. 8, which they argued wrongfully discriminated against gay and lesbian couples who wish to get married.

After a 12-day trial, the U.S. District Court ruled that Prop. 8 did indeed violate the U.S. Constitution’s equal protect clause and issued an order to permanently enjoin the state of California and its officials from enforcing Prop. 8.

Proponents of Prop. 8 intervened and appealed the district court’s ruling that ballot measure violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause to Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals after the state of California declined to defend Prop. 8.

“The only individuals who sought to appeal that order were petitioners, who had intervened in District Court. But the District Court had not ordered them to do or refrain from anything,” Roberts pointed out. “And no matter its reasons, the fact that a State thinks a private party should have standing to seek relief for a generalized grievance cannot override our settled law to the contrary.”

Although the Ninth Circuit upheld the district court’s ruling that Prop. 8 was unconstitutional, the appeals court issued a stay on the district court’s order, which meant that the state of California would continue to enforce Prop. 8 pending the U.S. Supreme Court decision on the matter.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Ninth Circuit should not have allowed Prop. 8 proponents to appeal the district court’s ruling in the first place because they lack standing under federal law.

“Because we find that petitioners do not have standing, we have no authority to decide this case on the merits, and neither did the Ninth Circuit,” wrote Roberts.

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