Aug 16, 2010 6:54 PM by By LISA LEFF Associated Press Writer
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A federal appeals court put same-sex weddings in California on hold indefinitely Monday while it considers the constitutionality of the state's gay marriage ban.
The decision, issued by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, trumps a lower court judge's order that would have allowed county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Wednesday.
Chief U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker decided last week to allow gay marriages to go forward after ruling that the ban, known as Proposition 8, violated equal protection and due process rights of gays and lesbians guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.
The Proposition 8 legal team quickly appealed Walker's ruling in a case that many believe will end up before the Supreme Court. Lawyers for two same-sex couples had joined with California Attorney General Jerry Brown in urging the appeals court to allow the weddings, arguing that keeping the ban in place any longer would harm the civil rights of gays and lesbians.
The plaintiffs could now appeal the 9th Circuit decision to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who handles emergency motions for the high court. Walker presided over a 13-day trial earlier this year that was the first in federal court to examine if states can prohibit gays from getting married without violating the constitutional guarantee of equality.
Supporters argued the ban was necessary to safeguard the traditional understanding of marriage and to encourage responsible childbearing. Opponents said that tradition or fears of harm to heterosexual unions were legally insufficient grounds to discriminate against gay couples.
Currently, same-sex couples can legally wed only in Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C.