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 agonizing delays.
Chief U.S. District 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 marriage should resume. Gay marriages could happen at that point or be put off indefinitely depending on how the court rules.
Walker was ruling on requests to impose a stay that would keep Proposition 8 in effect while its sponsors appeal his decision. He struck down the state's voter-approved gay marriage ban last week in a case many believe is destined for the Supreme Court.
"I am optimistic this decision will be overruled probably by the Supreme Court if not by the American people," Proposition 8 supporter Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage told CBS News. "The majority of the American people have kind of drawn a line in our sand and said, 'This isn't true. It's not good. We don't believe in it, and we don't like it."
CBS Radio News Senior Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen reports that in denying the stay, Walker again noted a lack of evidence supporting arguments made by Proposition 8 supporters.
"For the second time in two weeks the judge noted that supporters of Proposition 8 simply didn't convince him with any evidence of why the stay should have been granted, and that's why he denied it," said Cohen. "He said that the facts have been clear and that folks who are against same-sex marriage were unable to convince him that it should be blocked pending this review."
Gay couples lined up at city halls and clerks' offices all across California expecting the stay to be lifted, CBS Radio News reports. After Walker's ruling, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom urged patience.
"People will be fine," Newsom told CBS Radio News. "Obviously some disappointment that they couldn't come today but this gives people time to call friends and family and organize, and I imagine there will be a lot of proposals in the next week."
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, 31, and her partner, Kristin Orbin, 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," Rowe said.
Three people protested among the crowd to oppose 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.
Opponents of same-sex marriage said they want Proposition 8 to stay in effect until their appeal of Walker's ruling is decided by higher courts.
They have argued in court papers that resuming gay marriage now would cause legal chaos if the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals or U.S. Supreme Court eventually reverse Walker's ruling.
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 Walker's ruling, a move that would halt gay marriages while the case is pending before the 9th Circuit.
In Walker's 136-page decision last week, he said gay marriages should begin immediately, but he agreed to suspend weddings until he could consider the legal arguments.
In response, lawyers for gay couples, California Gov. Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown quickly filed legal motions asking that same-sex marriages be allowed to resume immediately.
"I am pleased to see Judge Walker lift his stay and provide all Californians the liberties I believe everyone deserves," Schwarzenegger said Thursday.
Gay Marriage Judge's Personal Life Debated
California voters passed Proposition 8 as a state constitutional amendment in November 2008, five months after the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex unions and an estimated 18,000 same-sex couples already had tied the knot.
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," Walker said.
Walker also turned aside arguments that marriages performed now could be thrown into legal chaos if Proposition 8 is later upheld by an appeals court.
But Walker said such weddings would appear to be legal even if the ban is later reinstated. He pointed to the 18,000 same-sex couples who married legally in the five months that gay marriage was legal in California as proof.
Walker also said that no one can claim harm by allowing same-sex weddings to go forward, but banning them harms gays.
Finally, Walker said it also appears doubtful that the opponents of the ban have any right to appeal his decision striking down a state law that he said should have been defended by either Gov. Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Brown.
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. 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.
Hawkins, based in Phoenix, served as Arizona's U.S. Attorney under President Jimmy Carter and also worked as a special prosecutor for the Navajo Nation from 1985 to 1989.
Thomas, who keeps his chambers in Bozeman, Mont., made President Obama's short list to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy that was filled last week by Elena Kagan.
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.
More on Same-Sex Marriage:
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Calif. Moves To Resume Same-Sex Weddings
Santa Cruz County Clerk Gail Pellerin, president of the California Association of Clerk and Elected Officials, said county agencies that issue marriage licenses would be ready to serve same-sex couples whenever they get the green light.
Before deciding the case, Judge Walker heard 13 days of testimony and arguments.
Defense lawyers argued that the ban was necessary to safeguard the traditional understanding of marriage and to encourage responsible childbearing.
The judge dismissed the notion that gay Americans were seeking a new right as opposed to one already guaranteed them under the Constitution.
He said that preventing gays from marrying does nothing to strengthen heterosexual unions or serve any purpose that justifies the ban's discriminatory effect.
"Same-sex couples are identical to opposite-sex couples in the characteristics relevant to the ability to form successful marital unions," Walker wrote. "Like opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples have happy, satisfying relationships and form deep emotional bonds and strong commitments to their partners."