U.S. DISTRICT Court Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right was a bold and welcome step forward toward equality for homosexual couples. Although Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriages won voter support, Walker was right to overturn it as a violation of the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment. Walker also was correct in temporarily staying his ruling to give the appeals court an opportunity to take up the case.

Homosexual couples who have been denied the same marriage rights as heterosexuals are understandably eager for equal treatment. But the issue remains controversial even in progressive states like California and deserves to be heard in higher courts.

While we strongly support same-sex marriage and editorialized against Prop. 8, we believe that such a significant step would best be solidified by winning support in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and eventually in the U.S. Supreme Court.

If same-sex marriages were to go forward now, there is a chance they could be overturned by the appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court. If that were to occur, and Prop. 8 were upheld, same-sex marriages that take place now could be declared void.

To avoid such confusion and to assure that same-sex marriage rights become firmly established in constitutional law, it is best to let the case against Prop. 8 run its course though the appeals process all the way to the nation's highest court.

One troubling threat to the appeal by Prop. 8 advocates is a statement by Walker that those challenging his ruling might not have standing to appeal and that a state defendant may be needed.

However, both Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown have declined to appeal, leaving it up to private organizations that backed Prop. 8.

It would be a shame if the appeals court did not grant standing to the Alliance Defense Fund, which supports Prop. 8 and was a party that tried the case in Walker's court.

Walker delayed his stay on allowing same-sex marriage only until 5 p.m. Wednesday. If an appeal were denied due to lack of standing, same-sex marriage would be allowed at that time. That is hardly the best way to advance a major social and legal reform.

The long-term constitutional question would remain clouded. It is all but certain that the issue of same-sex marriage rights will be taken up by other federal district and appellate courts, which very well could differ from Walker's ruling. If so, the issue is likely to end up in the U.S. Supreme Court, with no certain outcome.

Despite the delay and frustration of homosexual couples, we believe that the question of same-sex marriage deserves to be heard all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and trust that equal rights will prevail.