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Attorneys for Proposition 8 attempted unsuccessfully to remove Judge Reinhardt from the case because his wife, Ramona Ripston, has participated in legal efforts to overturn the measure in her role as head of the Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Mr. Boies said the Supreme Court may be reluctant to take up the issue of gay marriage within the framework of California’s Proposition 8, owing to the case’s unique facts.

Proponents placed Proposition 8 on the ballot after the California Supreme Court struck down the state’s ban on gay marriage, which meant that same-sex couples were able to marry during the six months before the measure’s passage. Because same-sex marriage was briefly legal in California, the court was able to frame Tuesday’s decision as a California-specific ruling.

Instead of holding that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry, Judge Reinhardt argued that voters cannot use the ballot box “to single out a disfavored group for unequal treatment and strip them, without legitimate justification, of a right as important as the right to marry.”

“If proponents of Proposition 8 want to take this to the Supreme Court, they’re taking it with a set of facts which really might not be the most [favorable] set of facts you could have,” Mr. Boies said.

Value fights

The decision quickly got the nation’s top politicians taking sides. Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney said the ruling “underscores the vital importance of this election and the movement to preserve our values.”

“I believe marriage is between a man and a woman and, as president, I will protect traditional marriage and appoint judges who interpret the Constitution as it is written and not according to their own politics and prejudices,” the former Massachusetts governor said in a statement.

GOP hopeful Rick Santorum, an outspoken opponent of gay marriage, tweeted that California voters “had their rights stripped away by activist 9th Circuit judges,” and repeated his campaign promise to break up the 9th Circuit and reapportion the state to other courts.

Newt Gingrich tweeted that the ruling is “another example of an out of control judiciary.”

On the other side, House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, vowed to “continue the fight for the fundamental rights of [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered] couples” and “keep up the charge for change and equality in state legislatures and in the courts, and work in Congress to repeal and overturn the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.”

Conservatives laid blame for the decision in part on Hollywood celebrities, who helped fund the lawsuit. Brian Raum of the Alliance Defense Fund called it a “Hollywood-orchestrated attack on marriage.”

“This Hollywood-funded lawsuit, which seeks to impose San Francisco values on the entire country, may eventually reach the Supreme Court,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. “This ruling substitute’s judicial tyranny for the will of the people, who in the majority of states have amended their constitutions, as California did, to preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

Gay judge cleared

California voters approved Proposition 8 by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent. U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker overturned the initiative in 2010, but the ruling was appealed by ProtectMarriage.com, the group that placed the measure on the November 2008 ballot.

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