Supreme Court Building (Photo Courtesy: Getty Images)
With the current intense spotlight over gay marriage in California, it's easy to forget that it's been more than a decade since the state's political and legal fight began -- now joined, all on one side of the fight, by California officials, other states, and even the President of the United States.
"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," argues the brief filed late Thursday with the U.S. Supreme Court by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli on behalf of the Obama administration.
The president's intervention on behalf of the gay and lesbian California couples seeking to overturn the 2008 state initiative banning same sex marriage came at the 11th hour, on the final day others could petition to be part of the case known as Hollingsworth v. Perry, which is slated for oral arguments before the high Court on March 26.
And it wasn't the only one.
California's attorney general, Kamala Harris, also filed on behalf of the gay couples in the case -- making official the rare instance of a state refusing to defend its own law in court, and thus leaving only Prop 8's political supporters to argue on its behalf.
And then a new argument in the Thursday brief filed by Assembly Speaker John Pérez and a group of law professors: the initiative infringes on the constitutional powers of the Legislature.
"Proposition 8 eliminated more than just equal rights to marry," said the openly gay legislative leader at a Capitol press conference announcing his filing. "Proposition 8 also eliminated the ability of those seeking equal marriage rights to pursue those rights through their elected representatives."
And to add more filings to an already bursting file, 13 states and the District of Columbia offered the justices an amicus brief of their own in favor of the gay couples' right to marry.
All of this came on the same day of a new Field Poll (PDF) showing same sex marriage support among Californians at the highest level since the pollsters began asking about it in 1977.
61 percent of those surveyed support marriage rights for same sex couples in the poll, a 10 point bump since 2008, when Proposition 8 ultimately won a hard fought, bitter campaign with 52 percent support.
Opposition among all voter subsets declined in the latest Field survey, though Republicans, self-described conservatives, and those over 65 still below the 50 percent threshold.
But the rise in support among other traditionally skeptical groups was worth noting: a 19 point uptick among independent voters since 2010, and a 23 point increase in approval from African Americans and Asian Americans.
The polling, though, is only useful for those itching for another political campaign. And the fate of same sex marriage in California is now firmly in the hands of the nation's nine Supreme Court justices. Gay rights activists had a number of intense internal debates in the years immediately after Prop 8's passage about whether to ask voters for a do-over. In the end, they decided to first play their hand in the courts.
Whatever the legal impact may be of the Obama administration's entry into the fray, it no doubt will fire up the political base of the Democratic party across the country.
Here in California, the news comes just hours before the California Republican Party gathers for its spring convention in Sacramento, the second time in the last decade that gay marriage headlines were hot off the presses just as GOP conventioneers gathered. This year's reaction to the fight remains to be seen.