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Gay Californians must wait to wed

Gay couples who had been gearing up to get married in California this week had to put their wedding plans on hold once again after a federal appeals court said it first wanted to consider the constitutionality of the state's same-sex marriage ban.

A three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals imposed an emergency stay on Monday on a trial court judge's ruling overturning the ban, known as Proposition 8. Chief US District Court Judge Vaughn Walker had ordered state officials to stop enforcing the measure starting on Wednesday, clearing the way for county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Walker ruled on August 4 that Proposition 8 violated the equal protection and due process rights of gays and lesbians guaranteed under the US Constitution.

The ban's sponsors appealed that 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.

"It's saddening just to know that we still have to keep waiting for this basic human right," said Marcia Davalos, of Los Angeles, who is a health care advocate who had planned to marry her partner, Laurette Healey, when the stay was issued on Monday. "We were getting excited and then all of a sudden it's like, 'Ugh.' It's a roller-coaster."

Lawyers for the two gay couples who challenged the ban said on Monday they would not appeal the panel's decision on the stay to the US Supreme Court. They said they were satisfied the appeals court had agreed to fast-track its consideration of the Proposition 8 case by scheduling oral arguments for the week of December 6.

"Today's order from the 9th Circuit for an expedited hearing schedule ensures that we will triumph over Proposition 8 as quickly as possible," said Chad Griffin, president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, a group funding the effort to get the voter-approved gay marriage ban permanently overturned. "Our attorneys are ready to take this case all the way through the appeals court and to the United States Supreme Court."

Lawyers for supporters of the measure 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.

"Invalidating the people's vote based on just one judge's opinion would not have been appropriate, and would have shaken the people's confidence in our elections and the right to vote itself," said Andy Pugno, from the coalition of religious and conservative groups that sponsored Proposition 8.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown had joined lawyers for the plaintiffs 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.

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