For gay couples in California, the Court's decision as to the first question is likely to be significant in principle only. Because California already recognizes same-sex marriage, the Court's ruling will have little impact locally. Even if the Court holds that states are not required under the United States Constitution to recognize same-sex marriage, in 2008 the California Supreme Court held in the In re: Marriage cases that the California Constitution requires the state to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples. While a pro-same-sex ruling from the US Supreme Court would block any local attack on same-sex marriage (by, for instance, altering the California Constitution), as a practical matter it seems like same-sex marriage in California is here to stay.
However, the US Supreme Court's holding on the second question could have a more significant impact on California gay couples. While California recognizes (and will continue to recognize) same-sex marriages from other states, if the US Supreme Court holds that the United States Constitution does not require states to recognize same-sex marriage licences from other states it is possible that same-sex couples married in California might find their marriages invalid if they move to a state that does not recognize same-sex marriages. This would, of course, inhibit the mobility of California same-sex couples that want to keep their marriage intact.
Constitutional Law professor Steve Sanders recently analyzed how the court might decide to rule on these two questions. According to him, it is more likely that the Court will find that states must recognize same-sex marriage licences issued in other states that it is that the Court will hold that states must issue same-sex marriages. Same-sex marriage advocates, of course, hope that the Court will hold that gay couples have the right to get married and that other states are required to recognize those marriages. If the Court decides to split their response, however, it is more beneficial for gay couples in California for the Court to hold as Sanders thinks they might - that other states must recognize same-sex marriages.
The attorneys at Beach & Niman will continue to watch these important national developments and offer our thoughts here.