California's legal battle over same-sex marriage is one step closer to heading to the U.S. Supreme Court. A federal appeals court has refused to hear an appeal from supporters of the state's ban on gay marriage.
The majority of the judges on the U.S. 9th Circut Court of Appeals said they will not hear a challenge to an earlier decision by a three-judge panel striking down California's Prop 8, the constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Both supporters and opponents predict the justices will take up the case and for the first time decide if a state can prevent gays from getting married.
"Today's decision by the 9th circuit court brings us to the final lap, that final step we hope will allow weddding bells to once again ring in the golden state," Stuart Gaffney, with the pro-gay group Marriage Equality said.
"Well the 9th Circuit Court is a tough place to be. I mean, it's the most liberal circut in the federal courts, and we knew we would have a tough go in San Francisco," Andy Pugno, who backs Prop 8 and is with Protect Marriage, said.
Three judges disagreed with the ruling, saying the court "silenced... respectful conversation."
"We have now declared that animus must have been the only conceivable motivation for a sovereign state to have remained committed to a definition of marriage that has existed for millennia…even worse, we have overruled the will of seven million California Proposition 8 voters," Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain wrote in the dissenting opinion.
Same-sex unions briefly were legal in the state before 52 percent of voters approved the ban in November 2008.
"I mean this is not so much of a defeat as is another step in the process that we know we have to go through in order to exhaust our remedies and ultimately make our way to the Supreme Court," Pugno said.
Tuesday's ruling comes days after a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman, is unconstitutional.
That case will also likely make its way to the Supreme Court.