The U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday will decide whether same-sex couples will soon have the legal right to marry in California for the first time since voters forbade such nuptials by passing Proposition 8 nearly five years ago.
Ending months of anticipation, the Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it will release rulings Wednesday in the long-running legal battle over Proposition 8 and a separate challenge to the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples nationwide.
Chief Justice John Roberts indicated that the court will end its term with rulings in its remaining cases, and the same-sex marriage cases are two of the three still to be decided. The rulings will be released starting at 7 a.m. PDT, and San Francisco city officials plans to fling open the doors of City Hall shortly beforehand for a "public viewing" of the court's decisions.
The justices are reviewing a federal appeals court's ruling last year striking down Proposition 8, California's 2008 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. The court is also considering a separate federal appeals court's ruling declaring the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.
Based on how the justices distribute decisions among themselves each term, legal experts are predicting Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy are the likely authors of the opinions.
There are a host of outcomes possible in the Proposition 8 case, ranging from the court upholding the law to a sweeping ruling finding such state bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. The court also may duck the central questions by finding that Proposition 8's sponsors do not have a legal right to defend the law in place of Gov. Jerry Brown and state Attorney General Kamala Harris, who both consider it unconstitutional.
Whatever the Supreme Court decides, gay marriages will not resume immediately in California. The legal details will not be complete in the case for at least 25 days, making it likely that any marriages, if allowed under the court's decision, would not take place until later in July at the earliest.
The two couples who sued to overturn Proposition 8 will await the ruling at the Supreme Court. That includes Kristin Perry and Sandy Stier, a Berkeley couple seeking the right to marry.
Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz
For immediate news, copies of the rulings on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act and updates on the Wednesday court ruling with reactions from around the Bay Area and state, go to www.mercurynews.com/samesexmarriage