The California Supreme Court has announced it will hear oral arguments in the battle to define marriage in the state on March 5, guaranteeing a final decision before summer.

The court announced Tuesday that three hours – from 9 to 12 – will be devoted in San Francisco to hear the arguments behind a petition to invalidate Proposition 8, the state's gay marriage ban.

Proposition 8 was approved by the voters of California on November 4. It yanks back the right of gays and lesbians to marry in the Golden State. Its passage uncorked a volcano of pent-up emotions from previously silent – mostly young – gays and lesbians across the country who organized protests, marches and vigils against the prohibition. The state Supreme Court recognized the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry in May. But by June a coalition of mostly religious groups had formed to place Proposition 8 on the ballot.

A blizzard of friends-of-the-court briefs have been filed for and against the measure that eventually became the most expensive social ballot issue in American history; over $83 million was spent in the fight.

Gay rights groups and their allies have argued that Proposition 8 is invalid because it removes an existing constitutional right. In a surprise move, Attorney General Jerry Brown, the state's top attorney, sided with gay marriage proponents in his brief.

Opponents of gay marriage are mounting a vigorous defense and have suggested that justices voting down the measure might face a political backlash at the polls.

Kenneth Starr, dean of the conservative Pepperdine law school who is known best for prosecuting Bill Clinton, will defend the measure.