SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court put same-sex weddings in California on hold indefinitely Monday, while it considers the constitutionality of the state's gay marriage ban.
The decision, issued by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, trumps a lower court judge's order that would have allowed county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Wednesday.
Lawyers for the two gay couples who challenged the ban said Monday they would not appeal the panel's decision on the stay to the Supreme Court.
In its two-page order granting the stay, the 9th Circuit agreed to expedite its consideration of the Proposition 8 case. The court plans to hear the case during the week of Dec. 6 after moving up deadlines for both sides to file their written arguments by Nov. 1.
"We are very gratified that the 9th Circuit has recognized the importance and the pressing nature of this case by issuing this extremely expedited briefing schedule," said Ted Boutrous, a member of the plaintiffs' legal team.
A different three-judge panel than the one that issued Monday's decision will be assigned to decide the constitutional question.
Chief U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker decided last week to allow gay marriages to go forward after ruling the ban violated equal protection and due process rights of gay and lesbian people guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.
The Proposition 8 legal team quickly appealed Walker's ruling in the case many believe will end up before the Supreme Court.
Lawyers for two same-sex couples had joined with California Attorney General Jerry Brown in urging the appeals court to allow the weddings, arguing that keeping the ban in place any longer would harm the civil rights of gays and lesbians.
Walker presided over a 13-day trial earlier this year that was the first in federal court to examine if states can prohibit gay people from getting married without violating the constitutional guarantee of equality.
Supporters argued the ban was necessary to safeguard the traditional understanding of marriage and to encourage responsible childbearing.
Opponents said tradition or fears of harm to heterosexual unions were legally insufficient grounds to discriminate against gay couples.
Currently, same-sex couples can legally wed only in Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C.