LOS ANGELES - Within moments of the announcement Friday that the Supreme Court would hear two cases relating to same-sex marriage, gay activists rejoiced, heralding the decision as a major advancement for their movement.
"Today's news is nothing short of a milestone moment for equality," said Chad Griffin, a champion of the legal challenge to Proposition 8, the California initiative passed in 2008 that banned same-sex marriage and is now heading to the Supreme Court.
Yet amid the celebration, there were signs of concern over how the Supreme Court might rule. The fact that the high court is hearing the cases hardly means it is about to ratify same-sex marriage. As supporters and opponents said, the court might well use these cases to find that there is no constitutional protection for same-sex marriage.
"There is no question that it is a risk," said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California. "If they nationalize it and reject it, that's going to take decades to come back to the court."
As the mayor of San Francisco, Newsom began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples just over a month after his election in 2004 until he was stopped by the courts.
Newsom said he trusted the counsel of the high-profile lawyers for the plaintiffs, David Boies and Theodore B. Olson, that this time and this court were right for the case.
"I'm going to defer to their expertise rather than my instincts," he said. "I think it's worth the risk."
Jubilation was tempered with apprehension as the implications of the decision were discussed across the country.
"That the Supreme Court is taking this up is truly exhilarating, but I'm very nervous and unnerved by the possibilities of what could come out of this," said Don Romesburg, 42, an associate professor of women and gender studies at Sonoma State University.
"It is frightening to have our basic rights as citizens in the hands of just nine people, when four or five of them are deeply ambivalent, at best, about our very existence," said Romesburg, who legally married his partner during the window before Proposition 8 was passed.
When Griffin, who now heads the Human Rights Campaign, and other California gay rights leaders sought to overturn Proposition 8, they encountered criticism from some established gay rights groups fearful that the Supreme Court would rule against them.
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said the legal victories over the last four years have created a decidedly different environment for the Supreme Court.
"We've made enormous progress and built irrefutable momentum," he said.
Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which initially opposed court action, said she now expects the court to rule in favor of same-sex marriage.