Maryland lawmakers get cold feet on marriage

Del. Sam Arora

Despite supporters’ high hopes, Maryland delegates send bill back to committee; marriage equality faces promise, threats in other states

DANA RUDOLPH  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

The road to marriage equality in Maryland had never been a short or smooth one, but supporters of allowing same-sex couples to marry could see the altar this time: passing the House and sending the bill to a governor who said he would sign it.

But supporters never had a clear majority, and some who had said they would back it got cold feet in the days leading up to the House vote.

On March 11, instead of voting for the bill, the House unanimously voted to send it back to committee. Even some LGBT activists conceded it was the thing to do.

The Maryland vote reduced to two the number of states that could possibly see marriage equality move through the state legislature this year: Rhode Island and New York.

Iowa could lose existing marriage equality rights through actions in the legislature this year, and six states that already have statutes that prevent same-sex couples from obtaining marriage licenses — Indiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and South Dakota — could add constitutional amendments to protect the bans from legal challenges.

An attempt to do so in Wyoming died in committee in February.

Equality Maryland, the state’s leading LGBT advocacy group, said in a statement that, although they are “disappointed” the bill didn’t pass, sending it back to committee was “a strategic step that will allow us to fight and win in the future.”

Board member David Lublin explained to Maryland Politics Watch (Maryland-Politics.Blogspot.com) that, if the bill failed in a vote on the merits, it would have been harder later to convert the delegates who had already voted no in public.

And a coalition of groups including Equality Maryland, the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Marry and Gill Action released a joint statement after the vote, saying, “Over the past several days it has become clear that additional time to continue the marriage conversation in the state will better position the Civil Marriage Protection Act for success.”

The full Senate had passed its version of the bill on a vote of 25 to 22 Feb. 24.  Action then moved to the House, where the Judiciary Committee had voted 12-10 on March 4 to send the bill to the floor, even though committee chair Joseph F. Vallario Jr., a Democrat, who cast the deciding vote to do so, indicated he would not support marriage equality on the floor.

Support for the bill had already grown shakier. Committee member Sam Arora, a Democrat and an original co-sponsor, had said March 3 he would vote against it on the floor, and he only wanted to send it to the full House so voters could have their say in a likely referendum.

The state constitution allows voters to submit new laws to a referendum if they can collect the 55,736 signatures necessary to do so.

And Democratic Delegates Tiffany Alston and Jill Carter — both co-sponsors — were no-shows at the first scheduled committee vote.

Alston said she wanted more time to weigh her decision based on diverse feedback from constituents and others. Carter said she was just trying to draw attention to other legislation.

Alston eventually voted against sending the bill to the floor, but Carter voted in favor of doing so.

Sponsor Melvin Stukes, a Democrat who was not on the Judiciary committee, announced at the end of February that he was withdrawing his sponsorship. He said he had come to realize that the bill would grant full marriage equality instead of civil unions.

Three days before the full House vote, the bill was still “probably one to two short” of the 71 votes needed for passage, said Democratic Delegate Heather Mizeur in an interview March 8, adding, “There is still a large block of undecided who will go to the floor undecided.”

Democrats hold a 98 to 43 majority in the chamber.

Even Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has said he would sign the bill, appeared to shift towards the idea of a voter referendum — something equality advocates have shunned.

O’Malley told reporters March 3, “We should let the people decide,” according to the Baltimore Sun. After the bill was recommitted, he told the Associated Press, “I would have hoped that we could have resolved this issue and then let the people decide.”

The full House vote came after nearly four hours of debate on March 9 and 11. Debate centered around religious beliefs regarding homosexuality, whether the LGBT community’s political movement for equal rights could be compared to that of African-Americans, and whether same-sex marriage would negatively impact children.

Delegate Mizeur, in one of the most personal speeches during debate, spoke of reconciling her deep Catholic faith with being a lesbian. She said that, if the bill failed, it would not stop her and her wife from loving each other, but the lack of legal protections would “make it really, really difficult for us in the worst, most challenging times.”

Committee Chair Vallario asked, “Where would Martin Luther King be on this issue?”

“I don’t know,” he said, but the introduced a motion to recommit the bill to his Judiciary Committee. The House unanimously approved.

One other bill remaining in that committee seeks to ask voters to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages. Spokespeople for both the bill’s sponsor, Delegate Don Dwyer, a Republican, and Vallario could not say whether that bill would receive a vote before the session ends April 11.

In the remaining states, the Rhode Island House and Senate Judiciary Committees have held hearings on marriage equality bills in recent weeks, but neither chamber has yet scheduled a vote.

New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he will urge the legislature to take up marriage equality this session. He met with LGBT advocates March 9 to discuss the matter.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Anti-gay bills dead or stalled in Iowa

Newt Gingrich

It appears that Republican efforts to force a referendum to appeal that state’s same-sex marriage equality law are dead, at least for the time being — as are a couple of other anti-gay measures.

The Des Moines Register reports that one of two resolutions being considered that would have put same-sex marriage to a referendum vote has died, and the second has stalled. A resolution that had been passed by the Republican-controlled House is effectively dead after Democrats in the Senate chose not to advance it.

A bill that would have allowed businesses to deny services or public accommodations to same-sex couples based on religious beliefs has failed, as has a second measure that would have prohibited country recorders from giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples until a referendum could be held on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages.

Three of the Iowa Supreme Court justices who were part of a unanimous ruling in 2009 that overturned the gay marriage ban in Iowa were ousted in recall election efforts last November. A small group of Iowa House Republicans is calling for the other four justices to be impeached. They have not yet filed any articles of impeachment, the Register reports, but that could happen at any time.

In related news, other sources — including TPMMuckraker.com — are reporting that Republican former Congressman Newt Gingrich, himself a veritable bastion of traditional marriage values, helped get the justice recall effort jump-started last year in Iowa by rounding up about $200,000 to help Iowa For Freedom campaign for the recall.

Gingrich, by the way, is on his third marriage. He left his first wife for his mistress when his first wife was hospitalized and fighting for her life against cancer. Then he married the mistress, only to cheat on her with another women to whom he is now married. Gingrich is also contemplating a run for the White House in 2012; he launched a website to “test the waters” Thursday.

—  admin

We’re used to state-by-state laws on same-sex marriage, but what about county by county?

Conservative House Republicans in Iowa have introduced a bill that would prohibit county recorders form issuing marriage licenses — and block the state Supreme Court from reviewing the issue.

The apparent goal of the legislation is to prevent additional same-sex marriages in Iowa before a constitutional amendment can be passed to ban them. The Iowa House has already approved a resolution that would launch such an amendment.

But even the state’s attorney general says the latest proposal is unconstitutional because it would block review by the state Supreme Court:

That possible outcome: Iowans could challenge a recorder’s decision in trial courts, but those decisions could not be appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.

That would make the lower court ruling final and would mean Iowa could become a patchwork of counties in which some recognized the law and others did not.

“I think the result is that you would have a hodgepodge of rulings across the state,” Bartrum said. “It would depend on whatever the local district judge thought because there would be no uniform appeal.”

While this legislation would clearly be a bad thing for Iowa, where same-sex marriage is already legal, we wouldn’t mind seeing a different version of it in Texas. Since our state leaders claim they’re all about local control, why not let the gays marry in Dallas County?

—  John Wright

WATCH: Gay couples request marriage licenses in Austin, clash with counterprotesters outside

KVUE reports that protesters on both sides of the issue showed up Monday at the Travis County Courthouse, where a handful of same-sex couples requested marriage licenses. While the licenses were denied due to Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage, Travis County remains the only jurisdiction in Texas with a domestic partner registry.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Gay and lesbian couples participate in Valentine’s Day mass wedding in San Antonio

Each year a mass wedding is held on the steps of the Bexar County Courthouse in San Antonio. But this year for the first time, the event included nearly two dozen same-sex couples, KENS-TV reports:

It was a first for the grassroots movement. They quietly filed in with almost 150 couples who had marriage licenses. All of them listened as Joe Sullivan, an ordained minister and Valentine’s Day officiator of many years, gave instruction as well as advice.

The ceremony had ended and the same-sex couples had exchanged rings, vows and kisses before Sullivan was made aware his crowd of newlyweds was different this time.

“They don’t have a license,” Sullivan said. “If they took vows, it really means nothing.”

But the same-sex couples said they walked away feeling just like they were married anyway.

The thought of gay and lesbian couples in the event did not seem to bother some of the participants.

“In this day and age — whatever it is — I know my religion and faith in God,” newlywed Mark Aguilar said.

The San Antonio action is one of dozens of demonstrations planned across the country calling for marriage equality on Valentine’s Day, according to GetEQUAL. We’ve posted a list of events in Texas after the jump. As far as we know, nothing is planned in North Texas, although a lesbian couple that had been turned away from a private wedding chapel because of their sexual orientation married in a public ceremony Friday at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas. Publicist Kris Martin sent over the below photo of the couple, Tina Shaft and Tiffany Fenimore, posing for a NoH8 photo after the wedding, and the Dallas Observer has a nice write-up about the event. “They are a wonderful couple with a very supportive family,” Martin said in her e-mail. “I felt like mother of the brides.”


—  John Wright

Aren’t any gays in Dallas going to request a marriage license on Valentine’s Day this year?

GetEQUAL and Marriage Equality USA are planning demonstrations across the country for Valentine’s Day in which same-sex couples will request marriage licenses at county clerks’ offices. But Dallas, where the apparently defunct Queer LiberAction has staged similar demonstrations in each of the last two years, thus far doesn’t appear on the list of cities where events are planned in 2011. According to the website, the only Texas cities with demonstrations planned are San Antonio, Austin and Houston. So we’re sure Dallas County Clerk John Warren, shown below in 2009, is disappointed. Read the full press release from GetEQUAL is after the jump.

Dallas County Clerk John Warren, right, addresses Blake Wilkinson of Queer LiberAction during a Freedom to Marry Day demonstration in 2009.

—  John Wright

Prop 8 case sent to Calif. Supreme Court

LGBT advocates frustrated over delay

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service

A 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel surprised many Proposition 8 observers Tuesday, Jan. 4 when it suddenly issued five documents relating to the case.

But there was no decision Tuesday in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the landmark case testing whether voters in California violated the U.S. Constitution when they amended the state constitution to ban marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

The bottom line of the documents was that the three-judge panel that heard arguments in an appeal of the case punted a critical question regarding legal standing to the California Supreme Court.

The appellate panel said it would not rule on the constitutionality of Proposition 8 until it gets a ruling from the California Supreme Court as to whether Yes on 8 proponents of the initiative have an “authoritative” entitlement to represent the voters who passed the initiative in the appeal in federal court.

The announcement frustrated and disappointed many.

“It is frustrating that this will slow the case down, especially since there is nothing in California law that gives initiative proponents the power to force an appeal when the official representatives of the state have determined that doing so is not in the best interests of the state,” said Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The development struck some as odd. It appears the federal court is asking a state court whether Yes on 8 has standing to appeal a lower federal court ruling that struck down Proposition 8.

“I don’t think it was necessary to ask the California Supreme Court to rule on that issue,” said Minter, “and I am disappointed the Ninth Circuit did so.” But Ted Olson, a lead attorney on the team challenging Proposition 8, said it’s not uncommon.

And it was not really a surprise to learn the panel is struggling with the question of standing. During oral argument on Dec. 6, all three judges seemed troubled by the idea that a state governor or attorney general could, in essence, acquire an ability to veto a measure passed by voters by simply refusing to defend a challenge to its constitutionality in court. The California constitution does not provide the governor or attorney general a right to veto voter-passed initiatives.

Both Judge Stephen Reinhardt, widely perceived to be the most liberal of the panel, and Judge Randy Smith, the most conservative, seemed concerned that the governor and attorney general’s refusal to appeal the district court decision “does not seem to be consistent” with the state’s initiative system. Judge Michael Hawkins expressed frustration during arguments that the panel might be prevented from rendering a decision about the constitutionality of Proposition 8 “so it’s clear, in California, who has the right to marry and who doesn’t.” The panel seemed prepared, on Dec. 6, to ask the California Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue — and it’s somewhat curious that they waited one month before actually doing so.

In its 21-page order to the California Supreme Court, the three-judge panel asked the state court to determine whether Yes on 8 proponents have “rights under California law … to defend the constitutionality of [Proposition 8] … when the state officers charged with the laws’ enforcement … refuse to provide such a defense.”

Olson, in a telephone conference call with reporters soon after the court released its order, said that, if the California Supreme Court determines that there is no authority under state law for Yes on 8 to have standing to represent voters in the appeal, the 9th Circuit would be bound to accept that determination. However, the ruling on standing could still be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, he said.

If the California Supreme Court determines Yes on 8 does not have standing and the 9th Circuit rules accordingly, then the decision of U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker on Aug. 4 will become the law throughout California, making it possible for same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses.

Judge Walker ruled that Proposition 8 violates the U.S. Constitutional guarantees to equal protection and due process. Although neither the attorney general nor the governor provided any defense for the initiative during the trial last January, Walker did allow Yes on 8 proponents to intervene in the trial as defenders of the measure. But the appeals panel indicated that standing in the district court does not necessarily mean Yes on 8 has standing to appeal.

If Yes on 8 does appeal a loss on the issue of standing to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the high court rules in its favor, it would then most likely send the case back to the 9th Circuit for a ruling on constitutionality.

Meanwhile, among its other documents Tuesday, the 9th Circuit panel issued a 16-page opinion that Imperial County, Calif., does not have standing to appeal the district court decision itself. The panel said it was denying the county’s claim for standing on different grounds than did Judge Walker. The panel held that, because the county simply administers the state’s marriage law, it does not have any “interest on its own” to defend. The county has 14 days in which to appeal the panel’s ruling on standing.

The panel’s formal question to the California Supreme Court is: “Whether under Article II, Section 8 of the California Constitution, or otherwise under California law, the official proponents of an initiative measure possess either a particularized interest in the initiative’s validity or the authority to assert the State’s interest in the initiative’s validity, which would enable them to defend the constitutionality of the initiative upon its adoption or appeal a judgment invalidating the initiative, when the public officials charged with that duty refuse to do so.

“If California does grant the official proponents of an initiative the authority to represent the State’s interest in defending a voter-approved initiative when public officials have declined to do so or to appeal a judgment invalidating the initiative,” states the order, “then Proponents would also have standing to appeal on behalf of the State.

“This court is obligated to ensure that it has jurisdiction over this appeal before proceeding to the important constitutional questions it presents,” says the order, “and we must dismiss the appeal if we lack jurisdiction. The certified question therefore is dispositive of our very ability to hear this case.

“It is not sufficiently clear to us, however, whether California law does so,” said the panel. “In the absence of controlling authority from the highest court of California on these important questions of an initiative proponent’s rights and interests in the particular circumstances before us, we believe we are compelled to seek such an authoritative statement of California law.”

Today’s development will, of course, delay the 9th Circuit panel’s decision on the merits of the case — whether voters can withhold marriage licenses from gay couples while granting them to straight couples.

“Further delay in restoring the freedom to marry in California is a lamentable hardship on couples,” said Evan Wolfson, head of the national Freedom to Marry group. “But I am confident that we will regain the freedom to marry in California soon.”

NCLR’s Minter agreed.

“I am confident the California Supreme Court will hold that California law does not give initiative proponents any special power to override the decisions of the state’s elected representatives,” said Minter. “In the meantime, however, Proposition 8 remains on the books, and every day that goes by, LGBT people in California are denied the freedom to protect their families and express their love and commitment through marriage. This will delay,” he said, “but not deny, the day that Proposition 8 is gone for good.”

The full text of the order is below.

© 2011 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

CA9Doc 292

—  John Wright

Prop 8 backers slam trial judge in urging appeal

Marriage ban sponsors call Vaughn Walker’s consideration of evidence ‘egregiously selective and one-sided,’ accuse him of ‘willful’ disregard

LISA LEFF  |  Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Backers of California’s same-sex marriage ban urged a federal appeals court to overturn the trial judge who struck down Proposition 8 by arguing late Friday, Sept. 17 that his consideration of evidence was “egregiously selective and one-sided.”

In written arguments to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, lawyers for the ban’s sponsors alleged that Chief U.S. Judge Vaughn Walker “quite willfully” disregarded a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court precedent and other relevant information when he decided the voter-approved measure was an unconstitutional violation of gay Californians’ civil rights.

“The district court based its findings almost exclusively on an uncritical acceptance of the evidence submitted by Plaintiffs’ experts, and simply ignored virtually everything — judicial authority, the works of eminent scholars past and present in all relevant academic fields, extensive historical and documentary evidence — that ran counter to its conclusions,” they wrote in their 134-page opening brief.

Lawyers for the two couples who successfully sued in Walker’s court are due to file their responses next month. A three-judge 9th Circuit panel has scheduled oral arguments in the case for the first week in December and put Walker’s order requiring the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on hold until it renders its own decision.

The court papers filed Friday contained unbridled criticism of Walker’s handling of the first federal trial to examine if the U.S. Constitution prevents states from limiting marriage to a man and a woman.

The appealing attorneys, who called two witnesses compared to 18 for the plaintiffs, asked the 9th Circuit to ignore the trial testimony on which Walker laboriously based his opinion, calling it “unreliable and ultimately irrelevant” to whether Proposition 8 passes constitutional muster.

“Having blinded itself to the genuine animating purpose of marriage, the district court was obliged to offer a different rationale for the institution, presumably one that is entirely indifferent to the gender of the spouses,” they wrote.

They also characterized as defamatory the judge’s conclusion that “moral disapproval” of gay men and lesbians was the main reason voters passed Proposition 8 in November 2008.

“The district court decision is an attack on the many judges and lawmakers and millions of Americans who rightly and reasonably understand that marriage is the unique union of a man and a woman,” said Alliance Defense Fund attorney Brian Raum, who is part of the legal team fighting to uphold Proposition 8. “The Hollywood-funded opposition wants to impose — through a San Francisco court — an agenda that America has repeatedly rejected.”

American Foundation for Equal Rights President Chad Griffin, whose organization organized and funded the lawsuit that led to Walker’s ruling, said he remains confident that it would be upheld in the 9th Circuit and ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The fact remains that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, as was proven conclusively and unequivocally through a full federal trial,” Griffin said. “There is no getting around the fact that the court’s decision was based on our nation’s most fundamental principles, and that the Constitution does not permit unequal treatment under the law.”

The 1972 case the Proposition 8 lawyers cited in their brief involved a gay couple who sought the right to marry in Minnesota and were rebuffed by that state’s highest court and ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear their appeal.

Before declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional last month, Walker rejected arguments that he was bound by the 38-year-old case, determining that the high court’s rulings in subsequent gay rights cases were more relevant to his deliberations.

They also cited as evidence that Walker had exceeded the bounds of his authority in a 1982 decision in which the 9th Circuit ruled that a gay U.S. citizen who had obtained a marriage license in Colorado was not eligible to sponsor his foreign-born same-sex partner for immigration purposes.

The pro-Proposition 8 legal team devoted part of their filing to trying to persuade the 9th Circuit that they should be allowed to defend the ballot measure since California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown have refused to appeal the lower court ruling.

Doubts have been raised about whether the coalition of religious and conservative groups that qualified Proposition 8 for the ballot and campaigned for its passage have authority to do so because its members are not responsible for enforcing marriage laws.

Under federal court rules, appealing parties have to demonstrate they have suffered a direct, concrete and individualized harm. The same-sex marriage ban’s sponsors meet those requirements, their lawyers argued Friday, because the California Supreme Court allowed them to defend Proposition 8 in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to get the measure overturned last year and Walker allowed them to defend it again in his court.

Lawyers for a Southern California county whose residents voted overwhelming for Proposition 8 also were due to submit briefs before midnight arguing why they also should be allowed to appeal. The Imperial County Board of Supervisors and the county clerk have maintained they have the legal right to challenge Walker’s ruling even if the ban’s sponsors don’t because counties issue marriage licenses.

If the 9th Circuit dismisses the appeal after deciding that neither the county nor the measure’s proponents have legal standing, Walker’s ruling would become final unless the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to take up the case.

If the high court refuses to intervene, gay couples would be able to marry in California again. An estimated 18,000 couples were married in California before Proposition passed.

—  John Wright

California Supreme Court refuses to force Gov. Schwarzenegger to appeal Prop 8 decision

Ruling means case may hinge on whether Yes on 8 has standing

Lisa Keen  | Keen News Service

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday night, Sept. 8 denied a petition from a conservative group seeking to force California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to participate in an appeal of the Proposition 8 case.

The full court issued its decision with a simple two-sentence declaration, denying a petition from the Pacific Justice Institute. The denial came just hours after Schwarzenegger and state Attorney General Jerry Brown submitted letters to the court, explaining that they were not participating in the appeal of Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

In a letter from his attorney, Gov. Schwarzenegger indicated what had been uncertain before — that he had decided not to appeal the Proposition 8 court decision to the 9th Circuit.

The definitive statement from Schwarzenegger — coupled with the state supreme court’s refusal to require state participation in the appeal — means the ability of Proposition 8 proponents to appeal may depend entirely on the legal standing of the Yes on 8 coalition. (There is one remaining possibility: the County Board of Supervisors of Imperial County, California, has asked to serve as an intervenor in the appeal. Because the county issues marriage licenses, it may be able to demonstrate a necessary element of standing — that it is impacted by the district court decision.)

Gov. Schwarzenegger had until Sept. 11 to make a decision and, though his position on marriage equality for gay couples has been changing, his most recent statements seemed to indicate he would not direct the state’s attorney general to appeal the decision from the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

That decision, issued Aug. 4 by Judge Vaughn Walker, found Proposition 8 violates the federal constitutional guarantee to equal protection. The Yes on 8 coalition filed its appeal, and a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit has said it will hear the appeal during the first week of December, along with arguments concerning whether the Yes on 8 coalition has standing to appeal.

Hoping to shore up the legitimacy of that appeal, the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal group, filed an appeal — Beckley v. Schwarzenegger — to the California Supreme Court this week, asking justices to force the governor to instruct the attorney general to join the appeal in the 9th Circuit.

The state supreme court ordered the governor and attorney general to weigh in on this matter Wednesday. And, in a five-page letter Sept. 8, Counsel for the Governor Andrew Stroud told the court, “Although Beckley may disagree with the Governor’s decision not to file a notice of appeal [in the Proposition 8 case in federal court], it was the Governor’s decision to make.”

A letter from Attorney General Jerry Brown’s deputy, Tamar Pachter, reiterated that Brown has long opposed Proposition 8 as unconstitutional and that Brown’s decision not to appeal the federal court decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger “is an ordinary and sound exercise of the discretion secured by law to his office.”

Pachter says the Pacific Justice Institute’s petition is based on its “fears that the the federal courts will rule that [Yes on 8 proponents] lack standing to pursue their appeal …”

“But the Attorney General has no duty to appeal at all, let alone to file an appeal he has determined is legally unjustified, soley to manufacture federal appellate standing in private parties,” wrote Pachter.

Copyright ©2010 Keen News Service. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

—  John Wright

Appeals court grants stay of Prop 8 ruling

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issued an order Monday granting Yes on 8’s request for a stay of Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. The appeals court panel also ordered, without being asked, that Yes on 8’s appeal of Walker’s ruling in Perry v. Schwarzenegger be addressed by the court on an expedited basis.

The panel said it would hear arguments on appeal during the week of Dec. 6, as well as arguments concerning whether Yes on 8 has legal standing to press the appeal.

The two-page order is a disappointment to many same-sex couples in California who were hoping that they would be able to obtain marriage licenses as soon as Judge Walker’s stay expired — at 5 p.m. Pacific time on Wednesday.

“We are very gratified that the Ninth Circuit has recognized the importance and pressing nature of this case and the need to resolve it as quickly as possible by issuing this extremely expedited briefing schedule,” said Ted Olson, one of the lead attorneys for plaintiffs challenging Proposition 8.

Olson, one of the most prominent conservative attorneys in the country, launched the high-profile challenge of California’s voter-approved constitutional ban on same-sex marriage with liberal attorney icon David Boies. Walker, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for Northern California (San Francisco), heard three weeks of testimony by the plaintiffs and Proposition 8 supporters in January.

In a dramatic 136-page ruling on Aug. 4, Walker declared the same-sex marriage ban in the state constitution violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. Walker agreed to stay — or delay enforcement — of his decision until Aug. 18, giving the 9th Circuit time to decide whether to grant a more extended appeal.

Evan Wolfson, who was a lead attorney on the first same-sex marriage case — in Hawaii in 1996 — called the 9th Circuit panel’s decision to continue Walker’s stay “disappointing.”

“But there are many twists in the road to justice,” said Wolfson, “and we are encouraged by the court’s setting a fast pace for the appeal, revealing that the judges understand how important a quick end to the exclusion from marriage is to gay couples, their loved ones, and all Americans who believe in equality under the law.”

The 9th Circuit panel includes two Clinton appointees — Judges Sidney Thomas and Michael Hawkins — and one Reagan appointee, Edward Leavey.

The panel set Sept. 17 as the date Yes on 8’s initial argument brief is due.

The response brief from the Ted Olson-David Boies legal team challenging Proposition 8 is due Oct. 18. And Yes on 8 may reply to plaintiffs’ brief by Nov. 1.

Monday’s order means the same-sex marriage ban will stay intact at least until December, when the 9th Circuit will hear arguments on both the issue of Yes on 8’s standing to appeal and, perhaps, on the merits of Walker’s decision.

Meanwhile, on the East Coast, where U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro ruled — in two separate cases — July 9 that the ban on federal benefits to same-sex couples is unconstitutional, the clock is still ticking down the 60 days the U.S. Department of Justice has to appeal the decisions to the 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

© 2010 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright