FAQ: What's next in the California Prop 8 same-sex marriage case?

The U.S. Supreme Court building.
The U.S. Supreme Court building. KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to take up the case that could determine whether a state constitutional amendment that limits marriage to heterosexual couples violates the U.S. Constitution. The justices will hear an appeal of the lower court ruling that declared California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional. Arguments could come in March, with a decision from the justices expected in June.

What’s happened up until now?

    • June 2008: The California Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage in the state, ruling in re Marriages Cases that: “California legislative and initiative measures limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violate the state constitutional rights of same-sex couples and may not be used to preclude same-sex couples from marrying.”
    • November 2008: California voters pass Proposition 8 by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin. It amends the California constitution to limit marriage within the state to heterosexual couples. California becomes the 29th state to ban same-sex marriage.
    • August 2010: A federal judge in San Francisco strikes down Proposition 8 as discriminatory:

California Prop 8 Ruling (August 2010)

    • February 2012: The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirms that the ban on same-sex marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees due process and equal protection of the laws:

9th circuit ruling on Prop 8

 What has the U.S. Supreme Court decided to do?

On Friday, the justices announced they would hear an appeal by supporters of California’s Proposition 8. Known as Hollingsworth v Perry, the appeal challenges the Ninth Circuit Court’s February decision that affirmed that California’s ban on same-sex marriages violates the U.S. Constitution.

What does it mean now that the Supreme Court has taken up the appeal of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision?

The Supreme Court's decision to hear the case means California’s same-sex marriage ban will remain law until the justices decide next year whether the lower courts erred in overturning Prop. 8.

What would it have meant had the Supreme Court decided NOT to hear the appeal of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision?

Had the court chosen not to hear the appeal, the Ninth Circuit’s ruling would have been final and that, in turn, would have made same-sex marriage legal once again in California.

What's the status of same-sex marriage in California?

Nothing has changed. Same-sex marriage licenses will not be able to be issued while the Supreme Court hears the Prop 8 case.

Where in the United States can same-sex couples get married legally today?

Same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

As noted above, California was the 29th state to amend its constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. The count is now up to 31, with North Carolina the most recent. Last month, Minnesota voters turned down a ban on same-sex marriage.

If the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Ninth Circuit's decision to overturn Proposition 8, the decision could overturn all 31 same-sex marriage bans. Or the justices could decide the Proposition 8 case on the same narrow grounds used by the Ninth Circuit, and thus their decision would not have nationwide impact.

A decision to uphold Proposition 8 wouldn't permanently bar same-sex marriage in the United States. It would not change the law in states that have already chosen to allow same-sex marriage. In California, supporters of same-sex marriage would likely place a measure to overturn Proposition 8 on the ballot as soon as 2014.

How can I learn more about the matter?

Check out the links below. You can also take our poll.

This story has been updated.

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