After the California Supreme Court held that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violated the California Constitution, state voters passed a ballot initiative known as Proposition 8, amending the State Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Respondents, same-sex couples who wish to marry, filed suit in federal court, challenging Proposition 8, naming as defendants California’s Governor and other state and local officials responsible for enforcing California’s marriage laws. The officials refused to defend the law, so the District Court allowed petitioners—the initiative’s official proponents—to intervene to defend it. After a bench trial, the court declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional and enjoined the public officials named as defendants from enforcing the law. Those officials elected not to appeal, but petitioners did.
The Ninth Circuit certified a question to the California Supreme Court: whether official proponents of a ballot initiative have authority to assert the State’s interest in defending the constitutionality of the initiative when public officials refuse to do so. After the California Supreme Court answered in the affirmative, the Ninth Circuit concluded that petitioners had standing under federal law to defend Proposition 8’s constitutionality. On the merits, the court affirmed the District Court’s order.