Michael Winter and Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
SAN FRANCISCO - In a surprisingly swift action, a federal appeals court Friday afternoon authorized the resumption of same-sex marriages in California, two days after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the invalidation of Proposition 8.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a stay of an injunction that ordered state officials to stop enforcing the voter-passed initiative, which a lower court judge declared unconstitutional in 2010.
PHOTOS: Same-sex marriages resume in California
After Wednesday's Supreme Court decision, the court initially said it had up to 25 days to act. Gov. Jerry Brown immediately directed that the state's 58 counties should resume issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as the 9th Circuit acted.
After the court's Friday action, Brown declared that same-sex marriage "is now legal in California" and that marriage licenses must be issued "immediately."
In San Francisco, where the appellate court is located, the first same-sex marriage following the action occurred Friday just before 5 p.m. PT (8 p.m. ET). One of the two couples who challenged Prop. 8, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, were first on the list to receive a license, which was issued at 4:15 p.m.
Attorney General Kamala Harris went to City Hall to perform the nuptials.
"About to marry the #Prop8 plaintiffs Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier. Wedding bells are ringing!" tweeted Harris, a former San Francisco district attorney.
After Harris said, "I now declare you spouses for life," the hastily assembled crowd burst into raucous cheers.
The other couple in the landmark lawsuit, Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo, are set to be married in Los Angeles at 6 p.m. PT (9 p.m. ET), said Ron Flynn with the San Francisco City Attorney's Office.
The San Francisco clerk's office is staying open Friday until 8 p.m. to issue licenses, Flynn said. Weekend hours were not yet set, he added.
Legal experts have said it's possible that officials in some conservative counties will balk. Imperial County, in Southern California, had sought to join the Supreme Court appeal in defense of Proposition 8 but was ruled to not having legal standing for such an action.
The Supreme Court's ruling had already energized San Francisco's annual Pride Week, celebration, but the Friday's unexpected events electrified the city. Even before the court action and resumption of marriages, an estimated one million people were expected to turn out for Sunday's parade and festivities.
The wedding bells first rang in February 2004, when then-mayor Gavin Newsom ordered that marriage licences be issued to same sex couples. In the soaring, ornate rotunda of City Hall, Newsom, now the state's lieutenant governor, performed the first same-sex marriage, and nearly 4,000 same-sex couples were wed until the California Supreme Court halted and invalidated the marriages a month later.
In May 2008, the same court ruled that gays had the right to marry, but six months later California voters approved Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as being only between a man and a woman.
The state's high court subsequently ruled the initiative to be valid, but said an estimated 18,000 same-sex marriages that occurred before the election were still valid.
In his declaration Friday, Brown also said that registered domestic partners in California could be issued a marriage license. Additionally, he said that same-sex couples legally married in another jurisdiction "will be considered already legally married under California marriage licensing and certification laws and they should not be issued a new marriage license."