Supporters of same-sex marriage in California took their fight to a US federal appeal court Monday, in the latest stage in a legal saga which could have national implications.
Gay rights activists want the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a landmark ruling in August which overturned a ban on homosexual weddings in the West Coast state.
"We're here today just to uphold that decision," said Paul Katami before the court hearing in San Francisco.
"We're excited today because we're going into this with a record based on the truth, that asserts that our fundamental right is to have the right to marry," he told CNN.
In the August ruling, a federal judge said a ban on gays and lesbians tying the knot -- imposed by a 2008 referendum -- was discriminatory and therefore violated the US Constitution.
But opponents of gay weddings appealed, and a week later a federal judge agreed to maintain the ban pending the appeals process which started Monday in San Francisco.
Critics argue that California's voters made their intentions known in the November 2008 ballot initiative known as Proposition 8, which imposed the ban on same-sex unions.
The proposal passed with a 52 percent majority, only six months after the state's Supreme Court reversed a previous ban on same-sex weddings -- sending gays and lesbians flocking to marry.
Some 18,000 homosexual couples tied the knot between May and November that year, when gay weddings were briefly allowed.
Experts believe the legal fight is almost certain to end up before the US Supreme Court in around 18 months, once appeals hearings in lower courts have run their course.
Currently only the states of Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as the US capital Washington, recognize gay marriage.