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Court halts same-sex marriages pending appeal

August 16, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A federal appeals court has granted an indefinite stay in the Proposition 8 case, blocking same-sex weddings in California while an appeal is considered.

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 after 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

Lawyers for the two gay couples that challenged the ban said Monday they would not appeal the panel's decision on the stay to the Supreme Court.

In its two-page order granting the stay, the 9th Circuit agreed to expedite its consideration of the Proposition 8 case. The court plans to hear the case during the week of Dec. 6 after moving up deadlines for both sides to file their written arguments by Nov. 1.

"We are very gratified that the 9th Circuit has recognized the importance and the pressing nature of this case by issuing this extremely expedited briefing schedule," said Ted Boutrous, a member of the plaintiffs' legal team.

Attorneys for sponsors of Prop. 8, which was approved by 52 percent of the state's voters in 2008, applauded the decision. In seeking the emergency stay, they had argued that sanctioning same-sex unions while the case was on appeal would create legal chaos if the ban is eventually upheld. In their opening brief, Proposition 8 sponsors must address whether they even have the legal right to try to have the trial judge's ruling overturned.

"The 9th Circuit Court has certainly done a wise thing. We've had several setbacks, but this is a major breather for us as we begin to gather our arguments for the upcoming time in December with the court, the 9th Circuit. But this could very well go beyond them and not end ther," said Rev. Lou Sheldon with the Traditional Values Coalition.

A different three-judge panel than the one that issued Monday's decision will be assigned to decide the constitutional question that many believe will eventually end up before the Supreme Court and further delay a final outcome.

County clerks throughout the state had been preparing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples for the first time since Prop. 8 passed in November 2008.

Many West Hollywood city leaders said a lot of people are very disappointed in the court ruling, which extends what for many people has been a rollercoaster ride.

"I think I'm angry, not so much because I was going to get married on Wednesday, but I've been working with couples all day who have been getting ready to have parents fly in, who have been getting ready and planning receptions, putting this all together in 48 hours and now once again their hopes are dashed," said John Duran, a member of the West Hollywood City Council.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker decided last week to allow gay marriages to go forward after ruling Aug. 4 that the ban 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 and also asked the 9th Circuit to block same-sex weddings in the meantime. They claimed in papers filed with the 9th Circuit that gay marriages would harm the state's interest in promoting responsible procreation through heterosexual marriage.

Lawyers for two same-sex couples had joined with California Attorney General Jerry Brown in urging the appeals court to allow the weddings this week, arguing that keeping the ban in place any longer would harm the civil rights of gays and lesbians.

Currently, same-sex couples can legally wed only in Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C.

On Monday, West Hollywood's gay community was disappointed, but not surprised.

"It's a push and pull," said Marco Gomez, who opposes Prop. 8. "We're getting closer to equality, but at the same time, the closer we get the harder the fight gets."

West Hollywood City Hall was preparing to issue hundreds of wedding licenses this week.

"We were ready to go," said Tom West, a city clerk. "We were going to start marrying people until the demands stopped."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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