SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California's Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to hear a legal challenge against the state's voter-approved ban on gay marriage and let the ban stand until it ruled.
A decision by the same court in May had opened marriage to same-sex couples in America's most populous state, one of a handful of states, provinces and mostly European countries where such unions are recognized.
When state voters passed the ban on November 4, social conservatives celebrated, but nationwide protests by gays and other ban opponents since then have focused media attention on the issue.
Gay marriage advocates as well as some opponents had urged the court to consider the ban, because of its importance, but same-sex couple supporters had asked that the ban passed by voters earlier this month be put on hold in the mean time.
Some 52 percent of voters agreed to amend the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
Gay advocates argued that Californians could not strip a right from a minority with only a majority-approved constitutional amendment. A more rigorous process called a constitutional revision was required, they argued.
Ban supporters said the single-sentence change was too limited to require a full constitutional revision.
The court said it would hear arguments on the amendment process and also said it would rule on whether the ban, Proposition 8, affected same-sex marriages that were performed between its May ruling and the November election.
Those marriages have been seen as being in legal limbo, despite state officials including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger saying they should stand.
Finally the court said it would hear arguments on whether Proposition 8 violated the state's separation-of-powers doctrine.
The court in a six-to-one decision asked all sides to work quickly and said oral arguments could be held as early as March 2009.
Reporting by Peter Henderson and Jim Christie; Editing by Eric Walsh