By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Opponents of gay marriage petitioned the Supreme Court on Saturday to immediately reinstate a 5-year-old ban on same-sex matrimony in California, saying a federal appeals court had acted prematurely in removing the prohibition on gay nuptials.
Supporters of the gay marriage ban, known as Proposition 8, which California voters approved in 2008, asked the high court to overrule a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals order on Friday lifting a stay that had kept same-sex unions outlawed.
Friday's surprise removal of the stay launched a flurry of swiftly arranged weddings by gay and lesbian couples up and down the state following a Supreme Court decision on Wednesday to let stand a 2010 lower-court opinion striking down Prop 8 as unconstitutional.
But opponents said the three-judge panel of the appeals court had jumped the gun in lifting its injunction before a 25-day "reconsideration" period at the Supreme Court had elapsed.
The Arizona-based group Alliance Defending Freedom argued that the 9th Circuit lacked authority to act when it did, and that it violated the terms of its own stay requiring that it remain in place "until final disposition by the Supreme Court."
The alliance asserted that final disposition could not occur before passage of the 25 days the Supreme Court normally gives petitioners to seek a re-hearing, in this case Prop 8 backers who were denied legal standing to appeal the 2010 decision.
But the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which sponsored the federal court challenge to Prop 8, issued a statement insisting that the 9th Circuit acted under its own "broad discretion" to issue its stay in the first place.
"Now that the Supreme Court has decided that the injunction against Proposition 8 must stand, it was entirely appropriate for the 9th circuit to dissolve its stay of that injunction," the alliance said in a statement.
Foundation attorney Ted Boutrous told reporters on a conference call on Friday that the 9th Circuit's move was hardly unprecedented and that appeals courts have taken similar actions in "much more boring cases than this" without drawing much notice.
Prop 8 supporters, he said, "should hang it up and quit trying to stop people from getting married."
The emergency petition seeking to bring gay marriages to a halt came as dozens of same-sex couples lined up at San Francisco City Hall for a second straight day since the appeals court lifted its stay against the 2010 decision by U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker barring further enforcement of Prop 8.
(Writing by Steve Gorman; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Patrick Creaven in San Francisco and Lawrence Hurley in Washington; Editing by Eric Walsh and Eric Beech)