SAN FRANCISCO – The federal judge who overturned California's same-sex marriage ban is set to rule Thursday on whether gay marriages should resume immediately in the state or await an appeals court's input.
Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker announced late Wednesday that he would issue his decision by noon on requests to impose a stay that would keep Proposition 8 in effect while its sponsors appeal his decision.
The announcement came after lawyers for gay couples, California Gov. Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown filed legal motions Friday asking that same-sex marriages be allowed to resume immediately.
Those motions were filed two days after Walker struck down California's voter-approved gay marriage ban as unconstitutional. In his 136-page decision, Walker said gay marriages should begin immediately, but agreed to suspend weddings until he could consider the legal arguments.
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.
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.
Santa Cruz County Clerk Gail Pellerin, president of the California Association of Clerk and Elected Officials, said county agencies that issue marriage licenses will 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," the Walker wrote. "Like opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples have happy, satisfying relationships and form deep emotional bonds and strong commitments to their partners."