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Will California gay marriage ruling affect other states?

If Judge Vaughn Walker's decision declaring the California gay marriage law unconstitutional is eventually upheld by the US Supreme Court, it could overturn gay marriage bans in 45 states.

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Nadia Chayka and her fiance Luke Otterstad, both proponents of Proposition 8, hold up a sign outside of the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco, Wednesday.

Jeff Chiu/AP

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Wednesday's ruling by a federal judge in San Francisco overturning Proposition 8 shifts the national debate over the definition of marriage in favor of the gay rights camp. For the moment, at least.

If Chief US District Judge Vaughn Walker's decision that declared the state's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional is eventually upheld by the US Supreme Court, it could overturn laws in 45 states that prohibit gay and lesbian couples from marrying.

For now, however, the decision on Proposition 8 is limited to California. And even in California it may not have an immediate impact.

The lawyers who defended Proposition 8 have appealed the decision and asked Judge Walker to stay his ruling through the appeals process in the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Judge Walker has asked lawyers on both sides to present their arguments on the stay by Friday.

In declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional, Walker issued a sweeping decision on the rights of gays and lesbians. Limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, he said, was an “an artifact of a foregone notion that men and women fulfill different roles in civic life.”

For gay rights groups, it's the landmark decision they had hoped for. In many ways, it's custom tailored for the Supreme Court battle to make the ultimate decision on the same-sex marriage question.

For many on the other side, the ruling smacks of judicial activism and a rejection of voters' rights. Lawyers defending Proposition 8 will no doubt put up an aggressive defense in the appeal process as the case lumbers toward the nation’s highest court.

"This ruling, if allowed to stand, threatens not only Prop 8 in California but the laws in 45 other states that define marriage as one man and one woman," said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, in a statement.

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