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Federal appeals court stops California same-sex marriages from resuming

By Steven Luo and Nolan Hicks August 16, 2010 No Comments Print Share

SAN FRANCISCO — The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed a lower court’s ruling that overturned California’s Proposition 8, a voter-approved ballot initiative that prohibits same-sex marriage, until it can decide an expedited appeal.

The appeals court’s stay means that same-sex marriages in California cannot resume at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, when a stay issued by U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who ruled the measure unconstitutional August 4, would have expired.

But the decision by a three-judge panel to fast-track the appeal means a ruling by the appeals court in the case could come within months.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian group which opposes same-sex marriage, said the decision was “clearly the right call.” “Refusing to stay the decision would only have created more legal confusion surrounding any same-sex unions entered while the appeal is pending,” said attorney Jim Campbell in a statement posted to the group’s website.

Meanwhile, John Lewis, Northern California director of Marriage Equality USA, said the decision marked “a very disappointing day” for same-sex couples hoping to get married on Wednesday. “Every day that goes by […] it hurts,” he said.

Lewis called the issue of same-sex marriage one of “dignity” for gays and lesbians. “We deserve to be treated fully equally,” he said.

Despite the stay, Lewis saw hope in the panel’s order, suggesting that a directive in the order to Proposition 8 backers to explain in their brief why their appeal “should not be dismissed for lack of Article III standing” indicates that judges may be unconvinced that the measure’s supporters have standing to appeal Walker’s ruling.

Even if the appeal by Proposition 8 backers were to be dismissed for lack of standing, it would be a “tremendous victory,” he said. Such an outcome would leave the question of whether states can ban same-sex marriage unresolved in other parts of the nation, even though California’s same-sex marriage ban would be lifted.

But Proposition 8’s backers also expressed confidence in the eventual outcome. “ADF and the rest of the legal team are confident that the right of Americans to protect marriage in their state constitutions will ultimately be upheld,” said Campbell.

Under the expedited appeals process, a hearing before a different three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit will be scheduled for the week of December 6. Proposition 8’s backers have until September 17 to file their opening brief, with answers from Proposition 8’s opponents due October 18 and a reply from backers due November 1.

Contact Steven Luo and Nolan Hicks at news@californiabeat.org.

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