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On Wednesday morning, the Supreme Court decided it would "decline" to uphold Proposition 8, an opinion expected in the tea leaves that doesn't allow as many same-sex couples as it could have to get married — or, based on the Court's ruling the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, to be recognized by the federal government. But starting very, very soon, gay marriages will begin in California, joining these states across the country:

As you can see above, a lot has changed leading up to today's historic ruling at the Supreme CourtFurther update: correction from the AP says that the Appeals court may wait 25 days. Their latest story reads, "Backers of the ban known as Proposition 8 have 25 days to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision." Update 4:39 p.m.: According to the AP, Appeals court has spoken and even though gay marriages have a full backing from California's governor, the wait looks like it will be 25 days.

But here, in simple English, is what the law means for same-sex couples who want to get married in the United States right now.

How the Prop. 8 ruling affects California's same-sex couples: 

Can they get married? 


When can they get married?  

That depends. What everyone is waiting for is official word from the state's Office of Vital Records, Sacramento's KCRA-TV reports: "Officials say they will be waiting for direction from the state's Office of Vital Records and county attorneys to determine when they will begin processing marriage licenses." After the OVR figures out what to do, it will then be up to county attorneys to coordinate. (Update: Governor Brown, Attorney General Harris, and the key appeals court have spoken out — see below.) In San Francisco, they're already preparing for the rush as they did every day this week in anticipation, USA Today reports:

Carol Lei works in the city administrator's office and has just spent a grueling two weeks training more than 50 workers to issue marriage licenses and perform marriage ceremonies in case the court's ruling allows same-sex marriages. "We're ready for the rush at City Hall," she said.

This week, she and her colleagues have been getting up every day before 7 a.m. PT to check on the court, which issues its ruling shortly after 10 a.m. ET.

And SCOTUSblog adds that weddings could be immediate in counties expecting it:

How the Prop. 8 ruling affects same-sex couples with "everything but marriage civil unions":

Can they get married? 

No, the Supreme Court struck down Prop. 8 on standing, which limits the decision to same-sex couples who get married in California

Could they have been? 

Yes. There was one outcome that would have affected Oregon, New Jersey, Illinois, Hawaii, Colorado, and Nevada, where those "everything but marriage" civil unions exist. But that would have had to have been a decision from Court that determined that California can't provide civil unions that provide all the benefits (and burdens) of marriage and not call it marriage — not unlike the concept of "separate but equal."

How the Prop. 8 ruling affects same-sex couples across the country: 

Can they get married? 


Could they have been?

Yes. Like the "everything but marriage" civil-union scenario, there was one possible outcome that could have changed the future of all same-sex couples across the country. If the Court had decided bans on gay marriage were unconstitutional, all states with laws prohibiting gay marriage would have failed. 

This is what the progress of gay marriage — and modern civil rights — could have looked like with a more sweeping decision from the Supreme Court today: 


Update, 12:11 p.m. Eastern: California Governor Jerry Brown has already acted on the decision.  Brown told reporters today that he has told officials that the ruling stands, same-sex marriages can begin, and is now just waiting for the Ninth Circuit to respond: 

After years of struggle, the U.S. Supreme Court today has made same-sex marriage a reality in California. In light of the decision, I have directed the California Department of Public Health to advise the state’s counties that they must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California as soon as the Ninth Circuit confirms the stay is lifted.

Update, 1:54 p.m.: State Attorey General Kamala Harris says the same...

Update, 4:12 p.m: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which put on pause the state ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, won't lift its stay immediately — the AP reports 25 days.

Stay tuned to The Atlantic Wire's live blog for constant updates. Plus: the state-by-state fight begins as Kennedy leaves the door open, and we map and rank the next states to get gay marriage.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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