A federal judge in California has lifted his self-imposed stay on the ruling he handed down overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, but he ordered that the stay must remain in effect until Aug. 18.
The action by U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker came as crowds of same-sex couples waited anxiously on the steps of San Francisco’s city hall, hoping to be able to obtain marriage licenses within minutes of any decision to lift the stay.
“Because proponents [of Proposition 8] fail to satisfy any of the factors necessary to warrant a stay, the court denies a stay except for a limited time solely in order to permit the court of appeals to consider the issue in an orderly manner,” Walker wrote in an 11-page ruling released Thursday.
Walker’s ruling came eight days after he issued a strongly worded decision overturning California’s Prop 8 on grounds that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses. Same-sex marriage opponents who defended Prop 8 were expected to immediately challenge Walker’s lifting of the stay before the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, where they are appealing the case.
Activists on both sides of the marriage issue were unsure whether the appeals court would have time to issue its own stay on Walker’s ruling overturning Prop 8 by Aug. 18 or whether the appeals court would reject a stay and allow same-sex marriage to resume in California. Both sides plan to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if they lose on the appeals court level.
Jennifer Pizer, senior attorney for Lambda Legal, an LGBT litigation group, said all federal appeals courts have a standard process in place for hearing emergency motions for stays on lower court rulings.
She said it’s “quite possible” that a required three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals would be ready to hear arguments for a stay and rule on it before Walker’s Aug. 18 deadline.
“The evidence presented at trial and the position of the representatives of the State of California show that an injunction against enforcement of Proposition 8 is in the public’s interest,” Vaughn said in Thursday’s ruling. “Accordingly, the court concludes that the public interest counsels against entry of the stay proponents seek.”
Pizer noted that Walker raised a potentially explosive issue in his ruling Thursday lifting the stay when he cited legal precedent indicating Prop 8 supporters may no longer have legal standing to appeal the case to the Ninth Circuit.
Walker noted that legal precedent suggests that the state may have sole legal standing to appeal a case like the one involving Prop 8. This could sideline private parties seeking an appeal.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state’s attorney general, Jerry Brown, filed papers last week that sought to immediately reinstate same-sex marriage in the Golden State. Last year, when same-sex couples filed their lawsuit seeking to overturn Prop 8, Brown refused to defend the same-sex marriage ban law and Schwarzenegger did not challenge Brown’s decision.
That meant California effectively chose not to defend a state law, forcing private groups and legal activists supportive of Prop 8 to fill in for the state in defending the law in court.
Walker said in his ruling Thursday that the private groups did have standing in the U.S. District Court, but a lack of support for an appeal by the state makes it doubtful that Prop 8 backers can file the appeal.
“If, however, no state defendant appeals, proponents will need to show standing in the court of appeals,” he said in his ruling. “Proponents’ intervention in the district court does not provide them with standing to appeal.”
California voters passed Prop 8 in November 2008 in the form of a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The vote came less than a year after California’s Supreme Court overturned an earlier ban on same-sex marriage, enabling gay and lesbian couples to marry up until the enactment of Prop 8.
Vaughn’s decision Thursday to lift his stay on his own ruling came on the same day that CNN released a public opinion poll showing for the first time that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage.
According to CNN, 52 percent of the respondents to the poll replied “yes” when asked, “Do you think gays and lesbians should have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid?”
Forty-six percent of the respondents replied “no” to the question and 2 percent had no opinion, CNN reported. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent, CNN said.
Vaughn’s action also came two days after the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates approved a resolution supporting legal recognition of same-sex marriage. The ABA is considered the nation’s preeminent membership organization of legal professionals, including lawyers and judges.
Upon issuing his Aug. 4 ruling overturning Prop 8, Vaughn placed an indefinite stay on the ruling, while giving the opposing parties in the case until Aug. 6 to file motions on whether they would like the hold to be lifted or remain in place until the Ninth Circle appeals court acts on the case.
Attorneys for the group that defended Prop 8 filed papers calling for retaining the stay. But in a development that surprised some political observers, Schwarzenegger, a Republican, filed papers asking Vaughn to lift the stay so same-sex couples could begin marrying immediately. The state attorney general also filed papers seeking the lifting of the stay.