- Associated Press - Thursday, August 12, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) | A federal judge on Thursday put gay marriages on hold for at least another six days in California, raising hopes among same-sex couples that they soon will be able to tie the knot after years of delays.

Judge Vaughn Walker gave opponents of same-sex weddings until Aug. 18 at 5 p.m. to get a ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on whether gay marriages should resume. They could happen at that point or be put off indefinitely, depending on how the appeals court rules.

In a case many think is destined for the Supreme Court, Judge Walker last week struck down the voter-approved state constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Dozens of gay-marriage supporters who had gathered outside San Francisco’s City Hall, a block from the federal courthouse, erupted in cheers when the decision came out. The crowd included a handful of same-sex couples who had arrived early Thursday morning to fill out marriage-license applications in hopes that the judge would allow nuptials to commence immediately.

Teresa Rowe and Kristin Orbin, both 31, said they were still happy with the decision, even though the ceremony didn’t happen.

“It’s sad that we have to wait a little longer, but it’s been six years,” Miss Rowe said.

In his original ruling, Judge Walker moved to suspend gay weddings until he could consider arguments from both sides on whether the marriages should be allowed during an appeal of his ruling. He now says the marriages should resume, but he gave opponents the extra time to get the appeals court to weigh in.

Charles J. Cooper, lead counsel for the Proposition 8 supporters, said his legal team intends to ask the appeals court to immediately impose a stay of Judge Walker’s ruling, a move that would halt gay marriages while the case is pending before the 9th Circuit.

California voters passed Proposition 8 as a state constitutional amendment in November 2008, five months after the California Supreme Court struck down the state’s statutory definition of marriage and an estimated 18,000 same-sex couples already had tied the knot.

Three people protested among the crowd to oppose Judge Walker’s ruling Thursday.

“It’s a really sad day for Californians, for families, for our future and for voters that a federal judge has trampled on the civil rights of voters,” said Luke Otterstad, 24, of Sacramento.

Judge Walker said on Thursday that ban proponents didn’t convince him that anyone would be harmed by allowing same-sex marriages to resume.

“The evidence at trial showed, however, that Proposition 8 harms the state of California,” the judge said.

The judge also turned aside arguments that marriages performed now could be thrown into legal chaos if Proposition 8 is later upheld by an appeals court, saying such unions would appear to be legal even if the ban is later reinstated, citing the 18,000 same-sex marriages that the California Supreme Court let stand after the amendment passed.

Judge Walker also said that no one can claim harm by allowing same-sex weddings to go forward, but banning them harms gays.

The case now goes before a special “motions panel” of three judges at the appeals court, the largest and busiest federal appeals court in the nation with jurisdiction over nine western states. The panel consists of two judges appointed by Democrats and a third by a Republican.

President Reagan appointed Judge Edward Leavy to the appeals court in 1987. Judge Leavy, who is semi-retired, has served as judge in the state and federal courts in Oregon since 1957. President Clinton nominated Judge Michael Daly Hawkins to the court in 1994 and Judge Sidney Thomas in 1995.

A new three-judge panel will be chosen sometime next year to decide the appeal. Lawyers for both sides have been ordered to file their legal arguments by the end of the year.

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