SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court decided Monday to put same-sex marriage in California on hold indefinitely, interrupting the wedding plans of scores of gay couples who were preparing to exchange vows when a temporary hold was set to expire Wednesday.
The brief order by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals prevents an early showdown on the issue at the U.S. Supreme Court. Challengers of California's same-sex marriage ban said they would not appeal Monday's order.
U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker decided Aug. 4 that California's Proposition 8 violated the U.S. Constitution and later ordered gay marriage to resume on Wednesday unless a higher court intervened. The panel's decision gave no explanation for overturning Walker's order directing the state to once again marry same-sex couples.
The panel agreed, however, to hear the Proposition 8 challenge on an expedited basis and hold arguments the week of Dec. 6.
"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. Invalidating the people's vote based on just one judge's opinion would not have been appropriate," said Andy Pugno, general counsel for ProtectMarriage.com, which filed the appeal.
Loyola Law School professor Richard Hasen, however, said Monday's order was strategically advantageous for supporters of same-sex marriage, no matter how disappointed many couples may be. If the panel had refused to place a hold on Walker's ruling, the supporters of Proposition 8 were prepared to seek a stay from the Supreme Court.
"I think there are strategic reasons why even the most ardent supporter of gay marriage could opt for a stay," said Hasen, an expert in federal court stays. "The concern is that rushing things to the Supreme Court could lead to an adverse result (for supporters of gay marriage.) If this case takes another year to get to the U.S. Supreme Court, there could be more states that adopt same-sex marriage and more judicial opinions that reach that conclusion."