(Reuters) - An appeals court on Tuesday found California's gay marriage ban unconstitutional in a case that may lead to a showdown in the Supreme Court.
Supporters of the ban said they would appeal the judgment, calling it "out of step with every other federal appellate and Supreme Court decision." Their appeal is likely to keep gay marriage in the state on hold pending future proceedings.
But the lawyers who won the appeals court round called the decision a milestone, and outside City Hall in San Francisco, a center for gay rights, dozens of same-sex couples hugged and kissed in public, cheering the ruling.
"It means we are included in the American Dream," said Joe Capley-Alfano, who married his husband, Frank, in the summer of 2008, a window of legal same-sex marriage in California.
The majority in the 2-1 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that California's Proposition 8 ban did not further "responsible procreation," which was at the heart of the argument by the ban's supporters.
"Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples," the ruling reads.
But the appeals court did not address whether marriage was a fundamental right available to same-sex couples as well as heterosexuals, focusing instead specifically on Prop 8.
Some lawyers predicted that the narrow ruling would lead the Supreme Court to limit itself to deciding on the California measure or to refusing the case altogether.
Gay rights supporters have traveled a bumpy road since the first legal U.S. gay marriage was conducted in Massachusetts in 2004. Some courts and legislatures have extended those rights, but voters have consistently opposed gay marriage.
California, the most populous state, joined the vast majority of U.S. states in outlawing same-sex marriage in 2008, when voters passed the ban known as Proposition 8.
That socially conservative vote by a state more known for hippies and Hollywood was seen as a watershed by both sides of the so-called culture wars, and two gay couples responded by filing the legal challenge currently making its way through the federal courts.
A federal judge in San Francisco struck down Proposition 8 in 2010, and gay marriage opponents appealed that ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Opponents of gay marriage have not decided whether to ask a larger 9th Circuit panel to hear the matter, or appeal directly to the Supreme Court, Andrew Pugno, general counsel for Protect Marriage and a lawyer on the team, said by email.
Court rules allow at least two weeks before a ruling takes effect, so same sex marriages cannot immediately resume in California, court spokesman Dave Madden said.
California gay marriage ban overturned, appeal planned | Reuters (external - login to view)
Be interesting to see where it goes.