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Court Halts California Gay Marriage

by Romain Raynaldy

LOS ANGELES – Gay couples in California scrapped wedding plans Tuesday after a court halted same-sex unions until the completion of an appeals process expected to end up in the US Supreme Court.

A week after a landmark decision overturned a ban on gay marriage, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a motion for a stay of the order, effectively reinstating the ban.

Further appeal proceedings are now scheduled to take place the week of December 6 in San Francisco.

The ruling halted an anticipated rush of gay marriages after Judge Vaughn Walker last week ruled same-sex weddings could begin again on August 18, allowing a week for the court of appeals to consider the issue.

Opponents of gay marriage argued in their appeal that same-sex unions are prohibited most places in the United States and abroad because marriage is intended to serve a societal interest.

"California, 44 other states, and the vast majority of countries throughout the world continue to draw the line at marriage because it continues to serve a vital societal interest," the appeal said.

The challenge argued that the purpose of marriage is for members of the opposite sex "to channel potentially procreative sexual relationships into enduring, stable unions for the sake of responsibly producing and raising the next generation."

Opponents of gay marriage in California also argue that the state's voters made their intentions known by supporting the 2008 ballot initiative known as Proposition 8 that imposed the ban on same-sex unions.

"California voters spoke clearly on Prop. 8, and we're glad to see their votes will remain valid while the legal challenges work their way up through the courts," Andy Pugno, an author of the ballot initiative, said in a statement.

But the ruling was a bitter blow for gay couples and their supporters.

"We are extremely disappointed that loving same-sex couples will have to wait to marry, and that we are once again being denied our fundamental rights," said Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors in a statement.

"However, we are optimistic for a favorable ruling, and we're hopeful that same-sex couples will be able to marry as soon as possible."

Some 18,000 gay and lesbian couples tied the knot between May and November 2008 when gay marriage was briefly allowed by the state of California.

Currently only the states of Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as the US capital Washington, recognize gay marriage.

Both California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Attorney General Jerry Brown filed motions last Friday demanding same-sex marriages be allowed after Walker ruled that the California referendum that barred same-sex marriage was discriminatory and therefore violated the US Constitution.

Schwarzenegger praised Walker's decision, saying it would "provide all Californians the liberties I believe everyone deserves."

But the ruling drew howls of condemnation from conservative opponents of same-sex marriage, who alleged that Walker -- who is gay -- had allowed his ruling to be influenced by his own sexual orientation.

Opponents of same-sex unions also argued it was inappropriate to reinstate marriage rights until the appeals process had run its course.

"If the trial court's decision is eventually reversed, refusing to stay the decision will senselessly create legal uncertainty surrounding any same-sex unions entered while the appeal is pending, "said Jim Campbell, a lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund, a socially conservative grouping.

Proposition 8 passed with a 52 percent majority in November 2008, only six months after California's Supreme Court overturned a previous ban on same-sex weddings, sending gays and lesbians flocking to marry.

Legal experts believe the case is almost certain appeals hearings in lower courts have run their course.

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