A U.S. federal appeals court in California has overturned a gay marriage ban,which was approved by the state's voters in 2008. Backers of the ban, called Proposition 8, plan to continue their fight, while supporters of gay marriage call the ruling a legal landmark.
Those who back the right of same-sex couples to marry cheered the ruling by the three-judge panel in San Francisco. In their 2-1 decision, the judges upheld the ruling of a lower court, saying Proposition 8 targets gays and lesbians and violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal rights.
The case is probably far from finished, and same-sex couples are not yet free to marry in California, pending a possible appeal by the proposition's supporters. Some 18,000 same-sex couples wed in the state in 2008, before Proposition 8 went into effect.
In Los Angeles, Paul Katami, a plaintiff in the case to overturn Proposition 8, was overjoyed. He celebrated the news with his partner, Jeff Zarrillo.
“Well, there's always one thing that I'm doing when I get good news is holding the hand of the person that I love and that I want to marry, and so I think we lost a little blood flow for a minute there, but today makes the last almost three years worthwhile," Katami said.
The case brought together two prominent attorneys, David Boies, a liberal, and conservative Theodore Olson, who teamed up in the legal battle against the gay marriage ban. Olson says the court action striking it down is extremely important, much like an earlier ruling that overturned bans by some states on interracial marriage.
"It's a respected federal appellate court upholding a federal district court decision striking down Proposition 8 as violating the United States Constitution," Olson said.
Robert Tyler, general counsel for the group, Advocates for Faith & Freedom, says marriage between one man and one woman has been the historical norm in the law of California and other U.S. states. He says activist judges are throwing out the vote of the people.
"What should be happening is those activist organizations that want same-sex marriage should go to the people, they should put an initiative on the ballot and allow the people to vote on it. And if the people vote to allow same-sex marriage in the future, then that's the law of the land," Tyler said.
Marriage in the United States comes under state and not federal jurisdiction. A handful of states conduct same-sex marriages - Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia. In the state of Washington, the state Senate last week voted to approve same-sex marriage, and the bill now heads to the lower house of the legislature.
In 1996, the U.S. Congress weighed in on the issue with the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. The federal law says states cannot be forced to recognize same-sex unions performed in other states.
U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California told VOA Tuesday that the California ruling bolsters efforts in Congress to overturn the act.
"My belief is that DOMA should fall on the same basis that Proposition 8 fell, but in the event it did not or will not, we've produced a bill that would essentially repeal DOMA," she said.
Supporters and opponents of Proposition 8 are expected back in the courtroom before long. Supporters of the gay marriage ban can ask the full Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to review the case, or appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court.