US & Canada

California gay marriage ban nears US Supreme Court

Same-sex figurines on a wedding cake on California
Image caption In November, as well as voting for the next president, ballot measures in four states will ask people to vote on laws related to gay marriage

Opponents of gay marriage in the state of California have asked the US Supreme Court to uphold a ban on same-sex weddings that was ruled unconstitutional by an appeal court.

A panel of three judges said the ban - a 2008 state constitutional amendment known as Proposition 8 - violated the civil rights of California residents.

In May President Barack Obama said he supported gay couples' right to marry.

The Supreme Court could take up the matter in its October session.

Proposition 8 was approved by 52% of California voters in November 2008, banning gay marriage just months after state lawmakers legalised it. But a court overturned the ban in 2010.

In June 2012, the judges of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that judgement.

'Judicial death sentence'

Lawyers for opponents of gay marriage were widely expected to ask the Supreme Court to consider their arguments in favour of the ban.

If the Supreme Court chooses not to take up the case it would mean same-sex marriages, which have been put on hold in California, could resume.

"The 9th Circuit's error, if left uncorrected, will have widespread and immediate negative consequences," supporters of Proposition 8 wrote in their petition.

"The 9th Circuit's sweeping dismissal of the important societal interests served by the traditional definition of marriage is tantamount to a judicial death sentence for traditional marriage laws throughout the Circuit."

Lawyers representing two gay couples who first challenged the California ban in 2009 have said they will urge the high court to reject it.

The Obama administration has also asked the Supreme Court to review a number of legal challenges to a federal law known as the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from recognising same-sex marriages.

As a result, legally married same-sex couples cannot file joint tax returns, receive federal survivor benefits, or access other national programmes available to married people.

On Tuesday, a judge in the state of Connecticut ruled in favour of six married gay couples and one widower who sued after they were denied access to federal benefits.

District Judge Vanessa Bryant said the 1996 law violated the US Constitution's Fifth Amendment right to equal protection.

An opinion poll released by the Pew Research Center on Tuesday also showed the gap in public support for gay marriage widening along party lines.

It said 65% of Democrats now support gay marriage - up from 59% in April, before Mr Obama's endorsement - while only 24% of Republicans are in favour.

Correspondents say that there is no guarantee Mr Obama's stance on the issue will help him in November's presidential election.

The Pew opinion poll showed that a majority of independent voters support same-sex marriage but several key battleground states, including Ohio, Virginia, Florida and North Carolina have supported constitutional bans on it.

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