Gay-marriage opponents seek Prop. 8 review

Supporters of Proposition 8 hold signs during a demonstration outside of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Dec. 6, 2010, in San Francisco.
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Updated at 3:45 p.m. ET

SAN FRANCISCO - Backers of California's same-sex marriage ban said Tuesday they will ask a federal appeals court in San Francisco to review the split decision by three of its judges that struck down the voter-approved law.

Backers elected to appeal to a bigger panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and against going directly to the U.S. Supreme Court to seek the reversal of the opinion that Proposition 8 violates the civil rights of gays and lesbians, said Andy Pugno, legal counsel for the Protect Marriage Coalition.

Lawyers for the religious and legal groups that qualified the ban for the 2008 ballot had faced a Tuesday deadline for petitioning the 9th Circuit to rehear the 2-1 ruling issued two weeks ago.

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The move means same-sex marriages will remain on hold at least until the 9th Circuit decides to accept or reject the rehearing petition.

"Generally speaking, we think the 9th Circuit as a whole deserves the chance to basically fix this because the decision is such an outlier, it's really not representative of what the 9th Circuit's thinking on this issue has been," Pugno said.

He said they made the decision even though the 9th Circuit is considered to be liberal in its rulings.

"There is liberal and then there is insanity, and there is just no way the entire 9th Circuit would sign off on a decision like this," Pugno said.

The ban known as Proposition 8 was approved by voters in 2008 with 52 percent of the vote. The 9th Circuit panel said in its previous ruling said it was unconstitutional because it singled out a minority group for disparate treatment for no compelling reason.

The justices concluded that the law had no purpose other than to deny gay couples marriage, since California already grants them all the rights and benefits of marriage if they register as domestic partners.

The lone dissenting judge insisted that the ban could help ensure that children are raised by married, opposite-sex parents.

The appeals court focused its decision exclusively on California's ban, not the bigger debate, even though the court has jurisdiction in nine western states.

Whether same-sex couples may ever be denied the right to marry "is an important and highly controversial question," the court said. "We need not and do not answer the broader question in this case."

Six states allow gay couples to wed — Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont — as well as the District of Columbia. California, as the nation's most populous state and home to more than 98,000 same-sex couples, would be the gay rights movement's biggest prize of them all.