The Supreme Court paved the way for same-sex marriages in California, but avoided making a broad ruling on the issue, in a decision Wednesday on the state's anti-gay marriage Proposition 8.
In the wake of the ruling, California Gov. Jerry Brown said that he had directed his administration to tell counties they must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as a lower court takes care of a procedural step.
The Supreme Court, in its decision, determined that defenders of the gay marriage ban did not have the right to appeal lower court rulings. As a result, an early ruling against the ban was left in place, and gay marriage will likely resume in the state in a matter of weeks.
The high court itself said nothing about the validity of gay marriage bans in California and roughly three dozen other states.
Rather, it determined that because state officials did not appeal the lower court ruling, the appeal effort could not stand. Private individuals had taken up the cause of appealing that ruling.
"We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here," the court wrote.
The outcome was not along ideological lines.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Antonin Scalia.
"We have no authority to decide this case on the merits, and neither did the 9th Circuit," Roberts said, referring to the federal appeals court that also struck down Proposition 8.
The ruling came after the court struck down a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to married gay couples.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.