A US appeals court upheld Tuesday its decision to strike down a California law banning gay marriage in the state, in the latest step in the dispute's expected path to the Supreme Court.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in February that an amendment to the California state constitution banning same-sex marriage violated principles of due process and equal protection under the law.
Supporters of a ban had asked the San Francisco-based federal court to re-hear the case "en banc" -- with 11 judges, as opposed to the three-judge panel which ruled in February.
But Tuesday's seven-page ruling concluded: "The petition for rehearing en banc is denied."
Gay marriage was briefly authorized in California in 2008, but later banned by a referendum on what was known as Proposition 8. It rewrote the state's constitution to restrict marriage to unions between a man and a woman.
In February, the three-judge appeals panel in San Francisco ruled by 2-1 that a lower court had properly declared the ban a violation of the US Constitution.
"Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California," the ruling said. "The constitution simply does not allow for laws of this sort."
The February judgment was slammed by Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who said "unelected judges (had) cast aside the will of the people of California who voted to protect traditional marriage."
But California Attorney General Kamala Harris called the decision "a victory for fairness, a victory for equality and a victory for justice."
The decision did not give gay and lesbian couples the immediate right to wed, as the ban remains in force until the US Supreme Court rules on a likely final appeal.
Source: AFP American Edition