BY Bill Hutchinson
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
A California federal appeals court put the brakes on gay marriage Monday just as same-sex couples were preparing to line up for wedding licenses.
The decision by the three-judge panel trumps a lower court judge's ruling that a gay marriage ban passed by California voters in 2008 was unconstitutional.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals put gay marriage on hold indefinitely, but agreed to expedite the case, scheduling arguments on Dec. 6.
Lawyers representing two same-sex couples who challenged the ban said they would not appeal the court's decision.
"We are very gratified that the 9th Circuit has recognized the importance and the pressing nature of this case," said lawyer Ted Boutrous.
California's county clerks were preparing to issue same-sex marriage licenses beginning tomorrow. But they'll now have to wait until at least the 9th Circuit's ruling.
The case is expected to wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court eventually.
The latest twist comes a week after Chief U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled the Proposition 8 ban violated equal protection and due-process rights of gays and lesbians.
Walker issued his decision following a 13-week trial to decide the constitutionality of the ban.
In his ruling, Walker wrote it is "irrelevant" that the majority of California voters supported Proposition 8.
Backers of Proposition 8 immediately appealed Walker's ruling to the 9th Circuit.
Supporters of the ban argued it was necessary to safeguard the traditional understanding of marriage and to encourage responsible childbearing.
Foes countered that it discriminated against gay couples.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown urged Walker to allow same-sex marriages to go forward and have publicly supported his decision.
When gay marriage was briefly legal in California between May and November 2008, more than 18,000 same-sex couples wed.
If it is allowed again, California would join Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington as the only places in the country to allow gay marriage.