SACRAMENTO, November 17, 2011 ( – The California Supreme Court ruled today that the longtime legal defenders of the state’s constitutional amendment defining marriage between a man and a woman have standing to continue doing so.

The role of supporters of Proposition 8 in defending the amendment is critical, since the state’s governor and attorney general have refused to do so.

The Supreme Court issued the non-binding ruling at the request of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considering Prop. 8 after District Court Judge Vaughn Walker struck it down last year.

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The lawsuit against Prop. 8 was launched shortly after California voters approved the marriage definition in 2008. The amendment effort was a response to the imposition of gay “marriage” on the state by a state Supreme Court ruling earlier that year.

The latest suit has alleged that defining marriage as between a man and a woman violates citizens’ right to equal protection.

The court on Thursday called it “essential” that someone pick up the slack to defend the merit of a measure backed by the majority of Californians.

“It is essential to the integrity of the initiative process … that there be someone to assert the state’s interest in an initiative’s validity on behalf of the people when the public officials who normally assert that interest decline to do so,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote in Thursday’s opinion, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Andy Pugno, General Counsel for the Proposition 8 campaign Protect Marriage, said prior to the ruling that the team would “immediately” resume the appeals process upon a positive outcome.

In response to the development, the National Organization for Marriage again criticized state officials for their dereliction of duty.

“It has been nothing short of shameful to see Governor Jerry Brown, his predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Kamala Harris abdicate their constitutional responsibility to defend Proposition 8 in Court,” said NOM president Brian Brown.

“Although today’s ruling from the California Supreme Court confirms that the proponents of Prop 8 have the right to defend their initiative when the state officials refuse to fulfill their sworn duty, it is gratifying to know that the over 7 million Californians who supported the initiative will have a vigorous defense of their decision in our federal courts.”