A long-running legal dispute about the constitutionality of same-sex marriages in California came a step closer today to an expected final resolution by the state Supreme Court sometime next year.
Today was the deadline for filing the final round of written briefs with the high court in San Francisco.
Court spokeswoman Lynn Holton said that step now clears the way for the next stage of the case, a hearing on oral arguments by lawyers for groups supporting and opposing same-sex marriage.
The court has not yet scheduled the hearing, but Holton said it is expected to take place “within a few months.”
After the hearing, the panel's seven members will have three months to issue a written decision.
The court is considering a total of six lawsuits. Four were filed by the city of San Francisco and a total of 19 gay and lesbian couples seeking the right to marry.
The other two lawsuits were filed by a pair of traditional values groups, the Campaign for California Families and the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund, opposing same-sex unions.
The California attorney general's office is also a party in the case, defending state laws that restrict marriage to the union of a man and a woman.
In earlier proceedings, a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled in 2005 that same-sex couples have a state constitutional right to marry, but a California appeals court overturned that decision last year by a 2-1 vote.
In addition to the official parties in the case, several dozen sets of religious groups, other organizations and individuals including law professors have been allowed to participate by filing “friend of the court” briefs on both sides.
Today's final deadline was for the filing of responses to the friend-of-the-court briefs.
One of the responses was filed by San Francisco, which among other arguments disputed a friend-of-the-court brief in which four religious groups argued that marriage is “an enormously important public policy question” outside the jurisdiction of the courts.
The city's brief says that while the issue has public policy implications, it is at heart “an individual rights claim that the judiciary must resolve.”
A total of 144 other religious groups had joined in September in different friend-of-the-court briefs supporting same-sex marriage.
Another of the briefs filed today was lodged by the Campaign for California Families in opposition to same-sex unions.
The campaign argued, “The definition of marriage as the union of one woman and one man has transcended law, geography, social custom and religious rights for millennia.”
The campaign argued, “Nothing has been presented to this court, either by the parties or by the amici, to change that reality.”
Today's filings ended a lengthy briefing process that began exactly a year ago, on Nov. 13, 2006, when the city of San Francisco filed a petition for review of the appeals court ruling.
— Bay City News