February 4, 2009 / 12:42 AM / 9 years ago

California court to hear gay marriage case in March

<p>Supporter Kelsey Swan (C) holds a sign as she cheers during a "No on Prop 8" rally in West Hollywood, California, November 5, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California’s Supreme Court early next month will hear arguments over whether to allow a ban on same-sex marriage that has become a national rallying point for gays and their supporters.

California voters on November 4 approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. A ruling by the same state top court which is now considering the ban had opened the way to same-sex marriage in May of last year, ushering in a summer of gay nuptials ended by the vote.

Trend-setting California fell in line with the majority of U.S. states when it passed the ban, but it spurred nationwide protests that were not seen when other states passed similar legislation.

Supporters on both sides have deluged the California Supreme Court with dozens of briefs. The court has agreed to hear the case on March 5, extremely quickly by judicial standards, and it has three months after oral arguments to rule.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown, the former governor, wants the court to reject the ban, arguing it curtails the right to liberty that is paramount in the state constitution.

Ban proponents say California’s state charter gives the people broad latitude to make laws and set policy, which the court cannot change.

Proponents of both sides have agreed the ban limits rights of a minority group -- ban opponents say the court must defend minorities in such a case, while ban proponents say the people’s decisions are final.

Reporting by Peter Henderson, editing by Vicki Allen

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