The threat of same-sex marriages being conducted in California against the will of the people has been put on hold by an appeal court ruling.
A panel of three judges on Monday delayed the implementation of a ruling which would have allowed same-sex marriages in the state from today.
Earlier this month a judge outlawed a marriage protection clause to California’s constitution, despite seven million of the state’s citizens voting for it.
Now, in the latest move in a long-running legal battle, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has put the brakes on same-sex marriages in the state, at least until further appeals have been heard.
The court battle centres on “Proposition 8″ which amended California’s constitution to make clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. Experts believe the wrangling will end up in the US Supreme Court.
Brian Brown, Executive Director of the National Organisation for Marriage, applauded the latest decision.
Mr Brown said: “One way or another, the people of California will get their day in court, and we expect the US Supreme Court or Congress if necessary to defend our right to vote for marriage.”
And the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a religious liberty organisation which is involved in the case, welcomed the ruling.
ADF’s Jim Campbell said: “It made no sense to impose a radical change in marriage on the people of California before all appeals on their behalf are heard, so the Ninth Circuit’s decision is clearly the right call”.
He continued: “Refusing to stay the decision would only have created more legal confusion surrounding any same-sex unions entered while the appeal is pending.”
“This case has just begun. ADF and the rest of the legal team are confident that the right of Americans to protect marriage in their state constitutions will ultimately be upheld”, Mr Campbell said.
In 2008 a majority of Californians backed a change to their state constitution, protecting the traditional definition of marriage.
Citizens were given the opportunity to vote on the issue as part of the 2008 presidential election in the state.
Supporters and opponents spent over $80 million campaigning on the issue – one of the most expensive non-business related initiatives in Californian history.
Following the lively campaign, over seven million citizens (52 per cent of the vote) backed traditional marriage and almost 6.5 million voted against.
In Britain there have been repeated calls to legalise full same-sex marriage. The Prime Minister David Cameron says he is happy to consider the matter, although he currently has no plans to change the law.
His coalition partner, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, is keen to redefine marriage. So too is the front-runner for leadership of the Labour Party, David Miliband.
Lib Dem deputy leader, Simon Hughes, has predicted that a redefinition of marriage will be enforced before the next UK general election.
The European Court recently ruled that there is no explicit right to same-sex marriage in the European Convention on Human Rights, although member states are free to legalise it if they wish.