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SAN FRANCISCO - JUNE 17: Same-sex couple Ariel Owens (R) and his spouse Joseph Barham walk arm in arm after they were married at San Francisco City Hall June 17, 2008 in San Francisco, California. Same-sex couples throughout California are rushing to get married as counties begin issuing marriage license after a State Supreme Court ruling to allow same-sex marriage. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A federal judge overturned California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, Prop 8, ruling that the ban discriminates against gay and lesbian couples and violates the U.S. Constitution. The decision, issued Wednesday afternoon by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, gives gay and lesbian couples the right to marry in California for the second time in three years.
Still, gay marriage will not be allowed to resume immediately. Walker still has to decide whether his order should be suspended while proponents pursue their appeal.
Walker, who is gay, gave both sides until Friday to submit written arguments. One gay couple went straight to San Francisco City Hall following the ruling. The clerk initially handed them a marriage license, but a couple minutes later told them they would have to come back because there was a stay.
"Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license," Walker wrote in his decision. "Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshire in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couple.
"Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional."
The ruling is seen as the first round in what will turn out to be a lengthy battle, with the ultimate destination being the U.S. Supreme Court.
The lawyers who argued the case surprised no one Wednesday when they said they will appeal Walker's ruling.
"Today’s ruling is clearly a disappointment. The judge’s invalidation of the votes of over seven million Californians violates binding legal precedent and short-circuits the democratic process. But this is not the end of our fight to uphold the will of the people for traditional marriage, as we now begin an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals," said Andy Pugno, general counsel for ProtectMarriage.com.
Prop 8 lawyers unsuccessfully argued the ban was necessary to safeguard the traditional understanding of marriage and to encourage responsible childbearing.
Former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson argued for the two couples. "This is a victory for the American people. It's a victory for our justice system," said Olson. Olson said the ruling "vindicates the rights of a minority of our citizens to be treated with decency and respect and equality in our system."
Olson teamed up with David Boies to argue the case, bringing together the two litigators best known for representing George W. Bush and Al Gore in the disputed 2000 presidential election.
The next legal step would be the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and then the Supreme Court.
The trial was held in January. Closing arguments were held in June. And the ruling came Wednesday.
Prop 8 outlawed gay marriages five months after the California Supreme Court legalized them. It passed with 52 percent of the vote in November 2008 following the most expensive campaign on a social issue in U.S. history.