WASHINGTON: Barack Obama's administration has urged the US Supreme Court to reinstate same-sex marriage in California, taking a stand in a historic case that could lead to weddings of gay couples across the US.
The filing adds a potentially powerful voice to the legal bid for same-sex marriage rights. The administration stopped short of directly calling for a nationwide right, saying the court should ''resolve this case by focusing on the particular circumstances presented by California law''. But the government's reasoning would leave states little room to argue against gay marriage.
The designation of marriage ''confers a special validation of the relationship between two individuals and conveys a message to society that domestic partnerships or civil unions cannot match'' the US Solicitor-General, Donald Verrilli, argued.
The administration said gay people should be afforded special constitutional protection, known as ''heightened scrutiny'', much as racial minorities and women already are.
The brief ''creates a clear path for marriage equality across the United States'', said Theodore Boutrous, a lawyer challenging the California ban. The 33-page filing came just hours before the court's deadline, ending months of White House and Justice Department deliberations. Both sides in the California case met Mr Verrilli in January to seek the administration's support. The White House had the option of staying out of the case.
The justices will hear arguments on March 26 on California's Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that halted gay marriage after it had been allowed for five months.
The new filing means that Mr Verrilli, Mr Obama's top courtroom lawyer, will probably take part in that session, making the case for gay marriage.
The gay-marriage activists challenging the measure are asking the court for a sweeping ruling that would force all 50 states to allow such unions. Nine states and the District of Columbia now permit same-sex marriage.
A poll released on Thursday, shows Californians now back gay marriage by almost two to one, with 61 per cent supporting it and 32 per cent opposed. Dozens of companies, including Apple and Morgan Stanley, are also calling for gay-marriage rights. A group of Republicans, including the actor Clint Eastwood, filed a similar brief.
Mr Obama raised hopes among gay-marriage supporters by using his inauguration speech to advocate legal equality for gay people. ''Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,'' he said.
''For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.''
The Proposition 8 case presents a delicate issue for Mr Obama. He had previously coupled his personal support for gay marriage with a call for states to continue taking the lead role on defining marriage. ''This is an issue that is going to be worked out at the local level because, historically, this has not been a federal issue,'' Mr Obama said in May.
For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.