By San Diego Gay and Lesbian News

SAN FRANCISCO — Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the new chief justice of the California Supreme Court, signaled Wednesday that the state's high court may decide "as soon as next week" whether to rule on a Proposition 8 question posed by an appeals court.

Cantil-Sakauye replaces recently retired Chief Justice Ronald M. George. The high court also has another vacancy after Justice Carlos R. Moreno also retired recently. Moreno was the only Democrat on the state Supreme Court, and he was the only justice to vote to overturn Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that took away same-sex marriage.

Supporters of marriage equality are disheartened by Moreno's retirement as the Prop. 8 case is under appeal.

In December, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals asked the California Supreme Court to decide whether state law gives initiative sponsors the right to defend them legally when state officials refuse to do so. The State of California has declined to defend Prop. 8 in court, and the newly elected governor and attorney general, both Democrats, are in are agreement with that position.

The state's high court has been traditionally deferential to initiatives. If it rules that initiative backers have special status under state law, the Ninth Circuit would be more likely to rule on the constitutionally of Proposition 8, legal observers say.

Many observers predict that the high court will not back the Prop. 8 initiative sponsors in this case, and that the appeals court panel will then dismiss the appeals challenge, effectively nullifying Prop. 8 and the ban on same-sex marriage.

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