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What's next for California after Prop. 8 case dismissed

Outside of the Supreme Court on Wednesday, the gay couples who challenged California's same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8, declared victory.

"I finally get to look at the man that I love and finally get to say, will you please marry me," Paul Katami said while choking back tears.

Yet moments later, one of the proponents of Prop. 8 suggested the same-sex marriage ban remained in place. "We remain committed to the continued enforcement of Prop. 8 until there is a statewide order saying otherwise," Andy Pugno of the Prop. 8 Legal Defense Fund said outside the court Wednesday.

The confusion was borne out of the Supreme Court's decision to dismiss the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry. Instead of taking the opportunity to issue a sweeping ruling on the constitutional right to marry, the court decided to punt the fate of Prop. 8 back to officials in California.

Soon after the ruling was issued, Gov. Jerry Brown, D-Calif., said local officials in California may soon start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples again. "The effect of today's U.S. Supreme Court ruling is that the 2010 federal district court's decision that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional is left intact and the law cannot be enforced," Brown said in a statement.

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There is, however, one more twist: according the Associated Press, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said it would give Prop. 8 supporters at least 25 days -- maybe more -- to ask the Supreme Court to rehear the case before lifting the stay on same-sex marriages that it imposed while Hollingsworth went through court. While Brown wants local officials to to start recognizing same-sex marriages, he said that should happen only after the Ninth Circuit lifts its stay.

Nevertheless, UCLA constitutional law professor Adam Winkler told, "It does seem like we are on a fast track to same-sex marriage in California."

"It's effectively a done deal," he said. "There may be some litigation in the meantime, but none of it's likely to be successful."

Winkler said he doesn't expect the Ninth Circuit to keep the stay in place for long, since the Supreme Court already ruled that Prop. 8 backers don't have standing in court. "I think that's going to influence what the court does -- it is an appellate court, after all," Winkler said of the Ninth Circuit.

Meanwhile, he added, "It is the governor's job to decide which laws should be enforced and which laws should not."

If California's governor opposed same-sex marriage, Wednesday's ruling may have been interpreted much differently.

In dismissing the case, the Supreme Court nullified the appeals court decision in Hollingsworth, leaving in place just the district court decision. Even though the district court found Prop. 8 unconstitutional, district courts are typically not able to issue statewide injunctions against a law. That means if left up to conservative interpretation, the district ruling would only apply to the two gay couples who brought the case to court. The rest of California's same-sex couples would be out of luck.

Proponents of Prop. 8 argue that state officials should be obligated to defend and enforce a law directly approved by voters. After all, Prop. 8 passed with 52 percent support in California in 2008 - on the same day Californians helped elect President Obama.

"Those voices deserve respect," Austin Nimocks, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said on CNN Wednesday. "We don't just ignore constitutions because we don't like the way they read. The law in California is very clear."

Winkler pointed out that Brown has enforced Prop. 8 in California up to this point. Now, he can reasonably claim he's acting under the order of a federal court ruling left in place by the nation's highest court.

Same-sex States

"In light of the fact he'll face no political backlash in liberal California for his decision," Winkler added, "it's a relatively easy one for him to make."

Even though a majority of California voters in 2008 approved of the same-sex marriage ban, public opinion has shifted dramatically in the state since then. A Field Poll released earlier this year showed that California voters now approve of same-sex marriage by a two-to-one margin (61 percent to 32 percent).

Given the changing tide of public opinion, the nonprofit progressive group the Courage Campaign was ready to put a marriage initiative back on the ballot in 2014 in the event the Supreme Court upheld Prop. 8.

On Wednesday, however, it was clear that was no longer necessary. Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs said he felt "ecstatic relief" after Wednesday's rulings were issued.

"We will have marriages in California, I'm guessing, within 30 days," he said. "Five years is a long time to wait to restore this, but better late than never."

Jacobs said the gay rights movement in California wouldn't have the same momentum it does now if it hadn't been for the Prop. 8 fight.

"If Prop. 8 had failed at the ballot, we wouldn't have seen this progress, not this quickly," he said. "Californians looked at themselves, and then we started to get to know each other... Californians started to get to know each other and realize if you're gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender... it doesn't really matter."

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