Yesterday was the deadline set by the Supreme Court for the submission of friend of the court briefs supporting the legal challenge against California’s Prop. 8, which amended the state constitution in order to forbid gay marriage. Ending months of speculation, the Obama administration came in just under the wire, filing a 40-page brief last night calling for the judicial nullification of Prop. 8.
Unlike the legal challengers, however, who framed the case against Prop. 8 as a matter of liberty versus overreaching state power, and therefore called for the legalization of gay marriage across the country, the Obama administration split the difference, offering an approach that would legalize gay marriage in California and the seven other states that currently grant marriage-like benefits to gay couples through civil unions, but would go no further than that. The administration’s argument is that “Proposition 8’s denial of marriage to same-sex couples, particularly where California at the same time grants same-sex partners all the substantive rights of marriage, violates equal protection.”
So it’s not the bold endorsement of a constitutional right to gay marriage nationwide that many gay rights activists were hoping for from this administration, but it’s also not a plea for the federal courts to stay out of the matter and let each state operate as a democratic laboratory by setting its own policy.
It’s possible the Supreme Court will adopt this very approach, though the brief is probably best seen as a political statement attempting to align the Obama administration with the increasingly popular cause of gay marriage.
Oral argument is scheduled for March 26 and a decision is expected from the Supreme Court by June.