On May 22, 2009, two same-sex couples filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, challenging California’s Proposition 8, which amended the California Constitution to prohibit marriage by same-sex couples. California’s Governor and Attorney General agreed with the plaintiffs that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. Judge Vaughn Walker permitted Proposition 8’s supporters to intervene as defendants, and also permitted the City and County of San Francisco to intervene as a plaintiff to represent their unique governmental interest in marriage equality. NCLR, the ACLU, and Lambda Legal filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief with the District Court, supporting the argument that Proposition 8 violates the federal Constitution.
After a three-week trial that took place in January, 2010, Judge Vaughn Walker ruled on August 4, 2010, that Proposition 8 violates the United States Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection of the laws. He also denied Imperial County’s attempt to intervene in the case.
Proposition 8’s supporters appealed the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit agreed to put on hold the implementation of Judge Walker’s ruling pending its consideration of the appeal. The Ninth Circuit also asked the parties to address in their briefs and at oral argument whether the Proposition 8 supporters have “standing” that is, whether they have the legal right to appeal the case. NCLR, the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) filed another amicus brief with the Ninth Circuit, arguing that it should uphold Judge Walker’s decision.
The Ninth Circuit heard oral argument in the case on December 6, 2010. On January 4, 2011, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of Imperial County’s attempt to intervene, and asked the California Supreme Court to clarify whether California law gives ballot initiative sponsors the power to override the litigation decisions of the Attorney General and the Governor.
Proposition 8’s supporters petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. On December 7, 2012, the Court granted certiorari, agreeing to hear arguments about the case, including whether the supporters of Proposition 8 had standing to appeal. On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the supporters of Proposition 8 lacked standing to appeal the district court’s ruling, and remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit with instructions to dismiss the appeal. This meant that Judge Walker’s decision, that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional and must be struck down, was allowed to stand, and same-sex couples were again able to marry in California.