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Gay couples looking to get married will have to wait longer. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today blocked same-sex unions until at least December.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who ruled unconstitutional the gay marriage ban under California's Proposition 8, had stayed that ruling until Wednesday, opening the door to possible marriages after 5 p.m. that day this week.

But the 9th Circuit today extended that until the appeal can be heard. That
won't begin until December, making a decision from the court in 2010 virtually impossible.

Opponents of Proposition 8 noted that the 9th Circuit expedited its review of the merits of the case, which should deliver a final resolution -- most likely at the U.S. Supreme Court -- earlier than would occur under the appellate court's normal pace of business.

"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.," aid Attorney Theodore B. Olson in a prepared statement. "As Chief Judge Walker found, Proposition 8 harms gay and lesbian citizens each day it remains on the books. We look forward to moving to the next stage of this case."

Proposition 8 supporters said the decision was a victory.

"California voters spoke clearly on Prop 8, and we're glad to see their votes will remain valid while the legal challenges work their way up through the courts," said Andy Pugno, one of the proponents' lawyers and an Assembly candidate. "Invalidating the people's vote based on just one judge's opinion would not have been appropriate, and would have shaken the people's confidence in our elections and the right to vote itself."

The development was another emotional blow to couples who had hoped to tie the knot as early as Wednesday.

Before the ruling was announced on Monday, county clerks around the region were preparing for a possible onslaught of gay couples seeking marriage licenses this week. Eighteen same-sex couples had made appointments for licenses in Sacramento County, and the clerk's office had planned to stay open until 8 p.m. to accommodate prospective brides and grooms.

"It's pretty tough," Diana Luiz, who planned to marry her partner Nicola Simmersbach, said on Wednesday afternoon. "I just found out, and it was the first time I actually cursed out loud about this. It's just not fair that we don't have the right to get married like everyone else."

The Sacramento Gay and Lesbian Center, which had planned to host individual wedding ceremonies on the west steps of the state Capitol as soon as couples began arriving from the clerk's office on Wednesday, now is organizing a protest, said spokesman Ken Pierce.

"Things were looking pretty good. How could they do this?" said Pierce. "A lot of people are pretty angry right now. They almost had the green light, and now it's turned yellow again."


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