The bitter rivals in California's gay marriage debate were in complete agreement Friday: The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to take up the state's gay marriage ban was a good thing.
Of course, each side is now hoping for a diametrically opposite ruling.
Still, both sides expressed relief that the long, legal battle may be nearing an end now that the high court has agreed to consider California's Proposition 8, which 52 percent of the electorate passed in 2008. Since then, two lower courts have struck down the ban as unconstitutional. The courts have put same-sex marriages on hold until the legal issues are resolved, which could occur next year depending on how the U.S. Supreme Court rules.
"Every one of the numerous legal steps we have taken for the past four years has been in anticipation of this moment," said Andy Pugno, general counsel for ProtectMarriage.com, which supported the ban in court. "Arguing this case before the Supreme Court finally gives us a chance at a fair hearing, something that hasn't been afforded to the people since we began this fight."
On the other side of the divide, same-sex couples and their supporters similarly applauded the U.S. Supreme Court's action, even though a denial to take the case would have lifted the ban.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said this route is better because it could lead to a sweeping ruling for the entire country.
"The federal challenge to Prop. 8 represents one of the most significant civil rights cases to be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court in decades," Herrera said.
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said this was the "beginning of the end" of the eight-year legal fight over gay marriage. Newsom defied state law on Valentine's Day 2004 when, as mayor of San Francisco, he ordered City Hall to wed same-sex partners.
"By agreeing to hear the Proposition 8 case, the U.S. Supreme Court could end, once and for all, marriage inequity in California," Newsom said.
The Supreme Court seized center stage in this historic social policy debate on Friday by also agreeing to review the constitutionality of a federal law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Same-sex marriage is a hot-button issue in a country where 31 of the 50 states have passed constitutional amendments banning it while Washington, D.C., and nine states have legalized it, three of them on Election Day last month. Yet even where it is legal, married same-sex couples do not qualify for a host of federal benefits because the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, passed by Congress, only recognizes marriages between a man and a woman.
Gays and lesbians married under state laws have filed suits challenging their denial of such benefits as Social Security survivor payments and the right to file joint federal tax returns. They argue the provision, known as Section 3, violates equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution.
Meeting in private on Friday at their last weekly conference before the court's holiday recess, the justices considered requests to review seven cases dealing with same-sex relationships. Five of them were challenges to the federal marriage law, one to an Arizona law against domestic partner benefits and one to California’s Prop. 8.
The court granted the appeal of Edith Windsor, an 83-year-old lesbian who challenged her denial of federal tax benefits under the Defense of Marriage Act.
The justices were widely expected to review at least one of the challenges to the federal marriage law, as two federal appeals courts had found the law unconstitutional.