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With its current term winding to a close this month, the U.S. Supreme Court has a varied menu of options for deciding the outcome of the now four-year legal battle over Proposition 8, California's ban on same-sex marriage. Here is a breakdown of the scenarios:

-- Uphold Proposition 8, leaving the state's gay marriage ban intact. This would force gay marriage supporters to return to the voters to legalize same-sex marriages.

-- Strike down Proposition 8, issuing a broad ruling that finds that any state ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. This is the most far-reaching potential outcome, and would effectively legalize gay marriage nationwide.

-- Invalidate Proposition 8 by letting stand a 2012 federal appeals court ruling that struck down the California law on narrow grounds. Such a decision would allow same-sex marriages in California, perhaps as soon as about a month after the ruling.

-- Strike down Proposition 8 in a ruling that finds that a state such as California that provides equal benefits to same-sex couples must allow marriages to comply with federal equal protection rights. This would apply to California and about seven other states with strong domestic partners laws and civil unions for same-sex couples.


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-- Find that supporters of Proposition 8 never had a right, or "standing," to defend the law on behalf of the state after a federal judge first found it unconstitutional in 2010. This is the messiest scenario, and would likely lead to further legal battles over the scope of the judge's ruling and whether it applies throughout California.

-- Decide that the case should never have been accepted for review, a process known as "dismissed as improvidently granted," or "DIG." This would effectively let stand the federal appeals court ruling striking down Proposition 8, paving the way for same-sex marriages in California.

Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz