When a federal judge last week struck down California's Proposition 8 as unconstitutional, proponents of same-sex marriage cheered the decision at rallies in West Hollywood and San Francisco.
Public displays of displeasure at U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker's ruling were few and far between. But Walker's decision struck an angry chord with many who voted for Proposition 8 in 2008.
On Thursday, he extended a temporary hold on his order until Wednesday to give sponsors of the measure time to appeal the ruling. Late in the day, proponents filed papers with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking to block any marriages while their appeal is heard.
What was once a moral argument has morphed into a debate over the democratic process and the propriety of judges overturning laws approved by voters. It raises one of the oldest conflicts in the nation — the tension between "majority rule" and a Constitution designed to protect the rights of individuals against the majority.
"I thought the people voted on it," said Russell Wade, 72, who was watching children body-boarding in the waves below Huntington Beach Pier this week. "I guess it doesn't matter as long as certain groups don't like what the voters decide. The people voted on it and it should be left alone. Period."
Walker ruled in a 136-page decision that "moral disapproval" of same-sex marriages wasn't a valid reason to deny gay men and lesbians their constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law.
But Wade, who has been married for 52 years to his high school sweetheart, believes there are laws that trump those made by man.
"I'm a Christian and marriage is, like the Bible says, a union of a man and a woman," he said. "I'll stick with what the Lord says. No matter what any court says, I have to live by a higher law."
Some liken the court's action on Proposition 8 to what happened to California's Proposition 187, which would have cut state services to illegal immigrants. Approved by voters in 1994, it too was invalidated as unconstitutional by a federal judge.
"Why should I waste my time voting if the opposition can find one judge to overturn the will of the people," said Bill Petersen, 66, of Tustin. "It doesn't make sense."
Petersen and business associate Danny Compton were on their way to a restaurant on the pier for a meeting.
"Not everything that's legal is right," Petersen said. "God created the heavens and the Earth. He created man and woman and put them together. That's his plan. Ignoring that puts us in the position of being our own god. I don't think we as humans are up to that responsibility."
Morality was the issue when voters went to the polls. But it isn't now, Compton said.
"What my moralistic views on this issue are is absolutely irrelevant," said Compton, 56, who lives in San Juan Capistrano. "In a democracy, the people decide. The majority of the people said [same-sex marriage] is wrong."
He said the ruling on Proposition 8 "opens up the door for more like this. Liberals are deciding what should happen in our world."
Walker is a Republican. He also is gay.
The latter bothers Art and Dolores Dennis. The Huntington Beach couple, who are both 86 and have been married 57 years, said they believe Walker's decision was influenced by his sexual orientation.
"The judge himself is a homosexual. I think he was sympathetic to the whole case and that it's reflected in his opinion," Art said.
"Did they search around to find this particular judge?" Dolores wondered.
Walker was randomly selected by court computer to handle the case after two same-sex couples filed a lawsuit in federal court last year. Their challenge to Proposition 8 said it violated their federal constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.
The Dennises, dressed in matching lime-green biking jackets, were taking a breather after a 10-mile ride along the beach, something they do almost every other day.
"If two guys want to be together, fine. But don't call it marriage," Art said.
"They already have civil unions. Isn't that enough?" Dolores added. (Domestic partnerships are legal in California, but civil unions are not.)
"They're pushing it down our throats," Art said.
They said they are resigned that the issue ultimately will be decided by the courts and not voters. That may not be a bad thing, Dolores said.
"Let's take it to the Supreme Court," she said, "and have John Roberts decide this."