gay_cityhall_gavel.jpgIf a constitutional challenge to California’s ban on same-sex marriage ever returns to a federal trial court in San Francisco, it will go before a new judge.

The U.S. District Court for Northern California announced today that the court’s new chief judge, James Ware, will replace former Chief Judge Vaughn Walker as the trial judge in a case in which two same-sex couples are challenging Proposition 8.

Walker, who declared the 2008 voter initiative unconstitutional in August, stepped down as chief judge on Dec. 31 and retired from the court to return to the private sector on Feb. 28.

Backers of the initiative are currently seeking to appeal Walker’s ruling before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In announcing the new trial judge today, the district court ordered parties in the case to submit a joint statement on the status of the lawsuit within 10 days.

But it will be a while before there are any substantial proceedings, if any, at the trial court level.

The 9th Circuit heard arguments on the appeal in December, but in January sent the case on a detour to the California Supreme to decide whether Proposition 8’s sponsors have the legal authority under state law to lead the appeal.

The question of the backers’ authority, or standing, to appeal arose because the official defendants in the case, Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris, have refused to defend the measure before the appeals court.

Earlier this week, the state Supreme Court turned down a request by the plaintiff couples to accelerate its review of the standing issue by hearing arguments in May instead of September as planned.

As a result, the case probably won’t return to the federal appeals court until late this year.

Whether there are any future proceedings at the trial court level will depend on the 9th Circuit’s eventual ruling on the appeal.

In the meantime, the two couples have asked the federal appeals court to allow gay and lesbian weddings to resume while the appeal is pending. On Tuesday, Harris filed a statement supporting that request.

The circuit court has no deadline for acting on the request.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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