WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 17: Tori (L) and Kate Kendall, who already share the same last name, hold their five-month-old baby Zadie while being are joined in wedlock as the era of same-sex marriage begins in California, June 17, 2008 in West Hollywood, California. Conservative and religious groups hope that voters will support their initiative on the November ballot to alter the state constitution to permanently ban gay marriages. Meanwhile, many business owners are looking for a wedding related sales boom. A study released by University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) this month projects that nearly half of the state's 102,600 same-sex couples will marry in the next three years and, along with same-sex couples from other states, will spend more than $683 million on weddings, honeymoons and other marriage-related activities. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
California's initiative process can be messy. And there's no better example than Proposition 8.
It's been three years since California voters approved the measure, which defines marriage as only that between a man and a woman. And the legal battle rages on.
In a significant ruling Thursday, the California Supreme Court said "it is essential to the integrity of the initiative process" to allow the backers of Prop 8 to defend the measure against legal challenges.
The issue arose because both Jerry Brown, when he was attorney-general, and current Attorney-General Kamala Harris, have declined to defend the measure.
In essence, critics said, they refused to do their job.
Although voters approved the ban on same-sex marriage, a federal district judge later ruled that the measure was unconstitutional. That ruling was put on hold by the Ninth Circuit federal court, and that's where it sits today.
The Supreme Court's decision Thursday didn't deal with the substance of whether the same-sex marriage ban is valid.
It did address situations where public officials decline, as Brown and Harris have, to participate in defending a voter-approved measure.
"It would clearly constitute an abuse of discretion for a court to deny the official proponents of an initiative the opportunity to participate as formal parties in the proceedings," said the ruling in a unanimous opinion authored by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.
In other words, the court said, under California's initiative process, voters have the ability to enact a law, even if elected leaders disagree with that law.
That means that lawyers for Protect Marriage, which backed the Prop 8 campaign, can now be participants, and not merely bystanders. It's now up to the Ninth Circuit to decide, as this legal battle moves forward in federal court.
And for voters, whether they support or oppose same-sex marriage, it's a reminder that what happens at the ballot box is often just one step in a long and messy process.