In 2000, the citizens of California passed Proposition 22, which affirmed a legal understanding that marriage was a union between one man and one woman. In 2008, the California Supreme Court held that the California Constitution required the term “marriage” to include the union of same-sex couples and invalidated Proposition 22. Later in 2008, California citizens passed Proposition 8, which amended the California Constitution to provide that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized by California.” The respondents, a gay couple and a lesbian couple, sued the state officials responsible for the enforcement of California’s marriage laws and claimed that Proposition 8 violated their Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the law. When the state officials originally named in the suit informed the district court that they could not defend Proposition 8, the petitioners, official proponents of the measure, intervened to defend it. The district court held that Proposition 8 violated the Constitution, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed.
U.S. Const. art. III confines the judicial power of federal courts to deciding actual “cases” or “controversies.” U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. One essential aspect of this requirement is that any person invoking the power of a federal court must demonstrate standing to do so. This requires the litigant to prove that he has suffered a concrete and particularized injury that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct, and is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. In other words, for a federal court to have authority under the Constitution to settle a dispute, the party before it must seek a remedy for a personal and tangible harm. The presence of a disagreement, however sharp and acrimonious it may be, is insufficient by itself to meet U.S. Const. art. III’s requirements.