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California's Proposition 8 gay marriage case offers Supreme Court many options


WASHINGTON -- Opponents of California’s Proposition 8 have served up quite a diverse menu to the Supreme Court.

They share the goal of letting gay couples marry in California. But in a collection of legal briefs, Proposition 8 critics present arguments that range from the aggressive, to the nuanced, to the tightly restrained.

Some, like former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, actor Clint Eastwood and a host of fellow Republicans, are urging the court to swing for the fences. They want full constitutional protections effectively covering same-sex couples in every state. Others, like the city of San Francisco, likewise support gay marriage, but say the court can also resolve the case technically without involving the Constitution at all.

Still others, like the Obama administration, are proposing a thread-the-needle approach that embraces equality for all same-sex couples but emphasizes a limited immediate legal application to California and seven other states that currently ban gay marriage but offer domestic partnership rights.

“The court can resolve this case by focusing on the particular circumstances presented by California law and the recognition it gives to committed same-sex relationships, rather than addressing the equal protection issues not present here,” Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. wrote in the administration’s legal brief filed Thursday.

Legally, the administration’s reasoning would only extend initially to Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Delaware, Rhode Island and Illinois, as well as California. These states provide civil benefits to same-sex domestic partnerships but, in Verrilli’s words, block them from “solemnizing their union in marriage.” This explicit contrast, the administration argues, violates the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection guarantees.

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