California same-sex weddings put on hold

Image caption,
Backers of same-sex marriage hailed an earlier ruling that would have allowed gay weddings to begin

A federal appeals court has put same-sex weddings in California on hold while it considers whether the state's gay marriage ban is constitutional.

A three-judge panel in the US Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a lower court's ruling that would have allowed gay marriages to begin on Wednesday.

The gay marriage ban, known as Proposition 8, was passed by voters in 2008 and overturned earlier this month.

Lawyers for two couples who challenged the ban said they would not appeal.

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

The three judges gave the two sides in the case several months to file briefs on the ruling made by Judge Vaughn Walker, who overturned the ban on same-sex marriage.

The next round of arguments is now set for 6 December, which would probably push a decision on same-sex marriages into next year.

Supporters of Proposition 8 had appealed against Judge Walker's decision last week to allow gay weddings to begin on Wednesday. Many observers now believe the case may ultimately land at the feet of the Supreme Court.

The legal staff of the two same-sex couples who challenged the ban had argued that keeping the measure in place infringed upon the civil rights of gays and lesbians.

Equal protection

The 2008 ballot measure, which came only months after California's Supreme Court legalised same-sex unions, amended the state's constitution to say that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognised in California".

It was passed in a ballot referendum by a vote of 52% to 48%.

Two same-sex couples originally challenged the measure, saying it breached their right to equal protection under the US constitution.

They said the ban violated gays' and lesbians' right to choose whom to marry while allowing that right to heterosexuals.

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