The California judge who struck down the state\'s same-sex marriage ban ruled on Thursday that gay and lesbian couples may begin marrying on Aug. 18 at 5 p.m., unless supporters of Proposition 8 can convince the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to issue a stay.

When Judge Vaughn Walker struck down Proposition 8 last week, calling it discriminatory and unconstitutional, he put a stay on the enforcement of his order. That stay was lifted today, but the judge gave Prop. 8 supporters an additional six days to appeal for a further stay.

“Lawyers for the two couples and a gay rights organization that challenged Prop. 8 have argued that maintaining the ban through a stay would further punish gay and lesbian couples, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Kevin Fagan wrote. \"They said that in order for the stay to remain in place, Prop. 8 opponents have to prove they are being harmed by gay and lesbian marriages, and they have to show they are likely to prevail on appeal.”

“None of the factors the court weighs in considering a motion to stay favors granting a stay,” the judge wrote.

In his earlier ruling striking down the gay marriage ban, Walker wrote that Prop. 8 supporters had failed to “advance any rational basis” as to why gays and lesbians should be denied the right to marry.

He continued: “Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligations to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.”

Both California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown filed motions last week demanding same-sex marriages be allowed to resume immediately.

By the vote of a 52 percent majority, California outlawed same-sex marriage in November 2008. The state\'s supreme court permitted same-sex couples to begin marrying five months earlier, striking down a prior ban. Over 18,000 couples were married during that time.

Most legal experts believe the case is destined to be decided by the Supreme Court a year or two from now, once the appeals process is complete.

With AFP.