Breaking news at 4:50 p.m. ET:
A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that California's so-called Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional, CNN and the Los Angeles Times are reporting.
The decision is to be posted on the court's website here, but demand may be causing it to crash at this time. NPR.org will have more on the news later.
Our original post -- "U.S. District Court Expected To Rule On California Same-Sex Marriage Ban Today":
In a matter of hours, the fate of same-sex marriage in California will be determined - at least for now - when a U.S. District Court judge decides whether the state's so-called Proposition 8 ban on such unions violates the Constitution's guarantee of equal rights.
The opinion by Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker in Perry v. Schwarzenegger is expected to be released on the courts website between 1 and 3 p.m. PDT. The case was heard earlier this year in San Francisco.
The current legal wrangle stems from a serious of rapid-fire events that began in May 2008, when California legalized same-sex marriage, prompting about 18,000 couples to converge on city halls across the state to marry.
By fall, state voters enacted Proposition 8, banning gay marriages. The ban was upheld last year by the state Supreme Court, whose decision was subsequently appealed by gay marriage advocates.
And Walkers decision, no matter what it is, will simply mark the beginning of yet another chapter in the ongoing war over whether the U.S. Constitutions guarantee of equal rights and protections for Americans extends to same-sex couples seeking to legalize their unions.
His opinion is expected be appealed -- and even before it was issued, those supporting the marriage ban asked that his decision be stayed if he finds the ban unconstitutional. It appears inevitable that the issue will make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
There, justices would be asked to decide a civil rights question that states have been struggling with mightily - and with increasing vigor -- since Vermont broke new ground in 2000, by approving same-sex civil unions.
Since then, the District of Columbia and five states, including Vermont, have approved measures giving same-sex couples the right to receive marriage licenses. The other states are Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, and New Hampshire.
Walker's decision will come in the wake of another dramatic opinion out of federal court in Boston. There, Judge Joseph Tauro found unconstitutional a 1996 federal law known as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The act bars the federal government from recognizing gay marriages.
Tauro ruled that the DOMA improperly meddles with states' traditionally exclusive right to regulate marriage. Activists are watching to see if -- or when -- the Department of Justice, tasked with defending federal law, will appeal.
The California decision comes at a time when Americans have shown growing support for the rights of same-sex couples to marry.
A recent CBS News/New York Times poll found that 42 percent of those surveyed said they support the right of same-sex couples to marry, with 25 percent supporting their right to civil unions.
That poll, and others like it, found that opposition to same-sex marriage is strongest among older Americans who identify themselves as conservative.
The Two-Way will update readers as soon as a decision is handed down. On the radio, NPR will provide reports from NPR West.
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