WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- A fractured Supreme Court declined on Wednesday to
decide whether the Constitution permits states to ban same-sex marriage,
saying instead that it did not have authority to hear a case
challenging California's law.
The court's 5-4 decision, written by
Chief Justice John Roberts, overturned a lower-court decision
invalidating that state's voter-approved law barring gay and lesbian
marriages. The decision could set the state for gays and lesbians to
marry throughout the nation's largest state, though its immediate
effects were unclear.
READ: Hollingsworth vs. Perry decision (PDF)
Roberts was joined by conservative Justice
Antonin Scalia, as well as three of the court's more liberal justices.
They said the court did not have the authority to consider an appeal
filed by backers of Proposition 8.
"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," Roberts wrote.
California Supreme Court cleared the way for gay marriages four years
ago, and quickly about 18,000 couples tied the knot. That led opponents
of same-sex marriage to demand a voter referendum outlawing gay
marriage, which passed narrowly in November 2008.
lawsuit against Proposition 8, filed by a gay couple and a lesbian
couple, had prevailed at both lower federal courts. The district court
said the law violated the Constitution's equal protection clause because
it was "premised on the belief that same-sex couples simply are not as
good as opposite-sex couples." The appeals court ruled more narrowly
that voters could not take away a right previously granted to the
state's gays and lesbians.
Since then, after a string of
successful state bans on gay marriage, a half dozen more states have
legalized the practice: Maine, Maryland, Washington, Delaware, Rhode
Island and Minnesota. Waiting in the wings are several others, from New
Jersey to Hawaii.
Rather than remaining on the sidelines in the
California debate, the Obama administration came out forcefully this
year against the ban and helped to argue the case in court. It singled
out California and several other states that allow civil unions or
domestic partnerships, arguing they cannot deny the title of marriage.
the case for California's gay marriage proponents was Theodore Olson,
the conservative former U.S. solicitor general who teamed up with
liberal David Boies on the case. They were representing two couples:
Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, lesbian parents of four sons, and Jeff
Zarrillo and Paul Katami, a gay couple who want to marry and raise a
family. Nearly all of them have been in court in recent weeks,
anticipating a favorable decision.
Arguing in support of
Proposition 8 was Charles Cooper, representing the original proponents
of the referendum, who contend that marriage is based upon producing and
raising children by a mother and father. They say forcing opponents to
recognize same-sex marriages would infringe on their religious beliefs.
And they say states and voters should be left alone to make their own