Federal Judge Vaughn Walker, who recently overturned California's ban on same-sex marriages, today ruled that the unions may resume. But he said no weddings can occur until Aug. 18, giving opponents time to appeal his decision to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appellate court will likely be asked to rule on whether marriage licenses may be issued during the appeals process.
Supporters of same-sex marriage were pleased with the decision. Courage Campaign’s Rick Jacobs said: “Today's ruling means that in less than one week, equality under the law will be restored for millions of loving families across California. Lifting the stay is ultimately consistent with both legal precedent and the findings in this case.”
But opponents expressed outrage and condemned Walker as an "activist." “When a lower judge makes an unprecedented ruling that totally overturns existing Supreme Court precedent, the normal thing for that judge to do is to stay his decision, and let the higher courts decide," the National Organization for Marriage said in a statement. "Judge Walker's ruling is more evidence he is not a neutral referee, he's an activist on this issue." The statement added that the group expects the ruling to be appealed to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.
State administrators had been awaiting a decision to determine if marriage licenses could begin to be issued today. Gay and lesbian groups have also been waiting, gathering across the state in anticipation of a decision. In San Francisco, gay couples lined up outside City Hall, hoping for the opportunity to wed this afternoon. Protesters on the other side also showed up. One such was Don Grundmann, who told the San Francisco Chronicle, "I had to be here at Ground Zero,” and said he and others “had to stand up to judicial tyranny."
Last week Judge Walker overturned Proposition 8, the state's ban on same-sex marriage, saying the voter-approved measure was unconstitutional and a violation of the civil rights of gay Californians. Lawyers who fought to uphold Prop 8, however, appealed last week’s ruling, and the judge granted a temporary stay. The stay was to permit the parties to make their arguments as to whether his ruling should be put on longer-term hold while the case made its way through the appeals process.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown had filed legal motions asking that same-sex marriages be allowed to resume immediately and stating that the state was fully equipped to begin issuing licenses.
The case is widely expected to eventually land in the Supreme Court. In the meantime, both sides have been lining up support. Among those in favor of banning same-sex marriage are influential legal minds like Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, who has written extensively about the trial. He has criticized Walker for not recusing himself from the case and for ignoring what he calls crucial evidence.
But a top lawyer on the team of David Boies and Ted Olson, who challenged Prop 8, said overwhelming evidence established that the ban violates the due-process and equal-protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. "As the judge found today, the public interest will be served by allowing same-sex couples to exercise their fundamental constitutional right to marry while this case proceeds through the appellate process," said the lawyer, Ted Boutrous.