Opponents of California's gay marriage ban got their day in court yesterday.

It's what gay rights activist have wanted all along. In fact, the state Supreme Court rejected a similar request before the ban was passed by voters in November.

But the results may be disheartening to those seeking to have the ban struck down. The seven justices who were responsible for bringing gay marriage to California last May when they struck down a 2000 voter-approved gay marriage ban appeared hesitant to rule against the people a second time around.

Voters narrowly approved the gay marriage ban – Proposition 8 – by 52% in November. It reversed the court's decision that said marriage was a fundamental right that could not be denied to gay and lesbian couples when it defined marriage as a heterosexual union in the state constitution.

Defending Proposition 8 was Kenneth Starr, the former independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton in the Whitewater affair. While admitting that voters at times make “unwise” decisions, Starr argued they have the final say on rights through the ballot box.

“The people do have the raw power to define rights,” Starr told the justices. “The people are sovereign and they can do very unwise things, and things that tug at the equality principle.”

Justices appeared swayed by the argument. Associate Justice Joyce Kennard, who voted in favor of gay marriage last May, said, “What I'm picking up from the oral argument in this case is the court should willy-nilly disregard the will of the people.”

And Justice Carol Corrigan, who dissented in last year's decision, asked a lawyer arguing for invalidation, “Is the essence of your argument that the people have the right to amend their constitution as long as it isn't done in a way the Supreme Court doesn't like?”

Shannon Minter, the National Center for Lesbian Rights attorney who successfully argued for gay marriage last year, disagreed, saying Proposition 8 puts the rights of every minority at risk of a majority vote. He said such changes to the state constitution could only be initiated by the Legislature, not a majority vote.

“A simple majority cannot be permitted to take away rights from a historical disadvantaged minority without substantially altering the very operation and purpose of equal protection and the court's ability to fulfill its core constitutional function of enforcing equal protection,” he argued.

The court will also decide the fate of the 18,000 gay marriages performed during the June-to-November “summer of love” when gay marriage was legal.

Several justices cornered Starr when he attempted to argue that Proposition 8's language left little room for interpretation that gay marriages performed while they were legal were now void. To make his point he raised the specter of polygamy. Starr argued that gay marriages were an analog to plural marriages in so much as it might be “unfair” for those wishing to enter either union but they remained unlawful in the eyes of the law.

Justices quickly discounted Starr's “unfair but unlawful” theory and focused their attention on the wording of the measure. Justice Kennard questioned if voters intended to void those marriages.

“Mr. Starr, it would appear that in this particular case there is no clear indication that at the time the voters of California voted for the passage of Proposition 8, that the voters understood that their vote in favor of Proposition 8 would mean that those people – those couples – who got married before enactment of Proposition 8, would after passage of Proposition 8 be unmarried,” Kennard said.

Chief Justice Ron George went further when he strongly implied that the backers of Proposition 8 had misled voters on the issue through unclear language.

Discussing the issue yesterday on MSNBC's 'Rachel Maddow Show', San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said he remained “cautiously optimistic” that the state Supreme Court would rule to strike down Proposition 8. San Francisco is one of the 15 municipalities involved in the lawsuit.

“I think what was very telling was the Chief Justice's questions of judge Kenneth Starr, who representing the other side said very, very clearly that if Prop. 8 was allowed to stand issues such as free speech and other fundamental rights that many of us take for granted would be freely able to be changed by the vote of the people,” he said.

A decision is expected in 90 days.