U.S. Appeals Court Sidesteps Gay 'Marriage'

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A federal appeals court on Friday sidestepped a question of whether the Constitution lets federal and state governments deny gays and lesbians the right to marry.

The case, brought by two gay Orange County men who were denied a marriage license, leaves Massachusetts as the only state allowing same-sex marriage.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the couple should await the outcome of California litigation challenging the state's marriage law outlawing gay nuptials. That case is awaiting arguments before a state appeals court and might reach the California Supreme Court by year's end.

While the federal case challenged both California and federal rules barring same-sex marriage, the court noted that the federal judiciary should stay out of the fight now and leave it to the states.

It is difficult, Judge Ferdinand Fernandez wrote, "to imagine an area more fraught with sensitive social policy considerations in which federal courts should not involve themselves if there is an alternative."

Fernandez, joined by Judges Sidney Thomas and Jerome Farris, also wrote that the couple didn't have legal standing to sue over federal laws against same-sex marriage because they have not attempted to acquire any federal benefits of marriage, such as filing a married income tax return.

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