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What Next If The Supreme Court Decides Not to Rule on Prop 8

same-sex marriage
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The early (and, again, we stress early) analysis of this morning's Supreme Court hearing on Proposition 8 suggests that the justices are more than a little wary about using the case to issue a sweeping ruling on gay rights. One of several possibilities being talked about by court watchers and legal experts is that the high court could decide to pass on ruling on the case all together, either by simply deciding that it's too soon to take up the issue or by finding that the plaintiffs don't have the legal standing they need to challenge the lower court's ruling that struck down the law. So what happens then?

In short, gay marriage would likely become legal again in California, although the door would be left open for another challenge at a later date.

Prop 8 had previously been struck down in two courts: the first time in 2010 when Judge Vaughn R. Walker of the Federal District Court in San Francisco issued a broad decision that said the U.S. Constitution required California to allow same-sex couples to marry; the second time was in February of last year when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Walker's decision on narrower grounds, saying that voters weren't allowed to revoke the right to marry once it had been established by the state Supreme Court. The two opinions offered slightly different legal rationale, but both came to the same broad conclusion: California voters didn't have the ability to deny gays and lesbians the right to marry.

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