Updated throughout. Originally posted at 1:48 p.m.

U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker has overturned Proposition 8 in San Francisco today, handing gay rights advocates a major victory in the continuing battle over same-sex marriage.

In November, 2008, California voters approved Proposition 8, which took away the existing right of gays and lesbians to legally marry in this state.

Celebration outside San Francisco City Hall.; Credit: Via TwitpicThe ballot measure was soon challenged by the American Foundation for Equal Rights, a Los Angeles-based group that organized and funded the federal lawsuit that went before Walker.

Founded by political strategist Chad Griffin, American Foundation for Equal Rights hired high-powered attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies to take on a case that's been closely watched by national news outlets and both sides of the gay marriage fight.

AFER also has connections to Hollywood, with film director Rob Reiner playing an important role in securing Olson's services and entertainment industry big shots helping to pay for hefty legal fees.

Celebration outside San Francisco City Hall.; Credit: Lalo Alacaraz, via Twitpic

Walker's ruling is now expected to be appealed by lawyers who defended Proposition 8, with the lawsuit possibly ending up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

AFER has organized a rally tonight at 6 p.m. in West Hollywood. The event, which will be covered by national and local news outlets such as CNN, will take place at West Hollywood Park at 647 N. San Vicente Boulevard, just south of Santa Monica Boulevard.

The gay community and its straight allies are urged to show up in force — anti-gay marriages forces across the country will be railing against the decision.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued this statement following Wednesday's ruling:

Today, the sun shines a little brighter on the Golden State. A federal judge has affirmed what a majority of Californians know to be true: that love does not discriminate and that marriage is a civil right, not a privilege reserved for a select class of citizens. The decision handed down today in Perry v. Schwarzenegger reaffirms the notion that separate is never equal.

Although this is a landmark case and one of tremendous importance, we all know that this will not be the final word on marriage equality. We will continue to fight as tirelessly as ever before to ensure members of the LGBT community and all Californians are afforded the same rights and privileges under the laws of our nation.

At a press conference in San Francisco this afternoon, high-powered attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies, who represented the plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 trial, hailed Walker's ruling.

“Everybody ought read this opinion,” Boies said, “and then tell me what they disagree with.”

Olson said Walker “carefully analyzed” the witnesses and experts for both sides of the case, and found “little value” in the testimony of witnesses for the defense. Olson characterized the judge's ruling as a “thorough examination” of “legal issues and factual issues.”

As for the appeals to come, Olson said he wanted the courts take up the matter and rule in an “exceedingly short” period of time due to the discriminatory harm Californians suffer under Proposition 8.

“We're going to fight hard to get this done as quickly as possible,” said Olson.

In Walker's “conclusion” of his 138-page ruling, he writes: “Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.”

Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, a group that's been consistently against gay rights, said about Walker's decision: “This is a tyrannical, abusive and utterly unconstitutional display of judicial arrogance. Judge Walker has turned `We the People' into `I the Judge.' It's inexcusable for him to deprive the citizens of California of their right to govern themselves, and cavalierly trash the will of over seven million voters. This case never should even have entered his courtroom. The federal Constitution nowhere establishes marriage policy, which means under the 10th Amendment that issue is reserved for the states.''

Rick Jacobs, founder of the Courage Campaign, a pro-gay marriage group, says: “This ruling is a historic milestone for millions of loving families, for all who have fought to realize the dream of equality under the law, and for our nation as a whole. While today concludes the first step in a legal process that could take up to two years, Judge Walker's ruling is a landmark victory in America's centuries-long war against discrimination, and the result of months of extraordinary work by the American Foundation for Equal Rights, attorneys David Boies and Ted Olson and courageous plaintiffs Kris Perry, Sandy Stier, Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo.”

And California U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, notes: “This is an enormous victory for the equal rights of gays and lesbians. Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling today confirmed what many of us had felt was clear all along: that it is unconstitutional to take away the rights of gays and lesbians to enter into the institution of marriage. Most likely this verdict will be appealed and will go to the Supreme Court. The journey is not over, but today is a day to celebrate this historic victory for equal marriage rights. This is very good news.”

Walker has temporarily stayed his order until Friday, which gives supporters of Prop. 8 time to file appeals and seek a long-term stay. L.A. County and West Hollywood officials, the L.A. Times reported, were studying the ruling before deciding whether or not to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples again.

Read LA Weekly's story Proposition 8 Ruling Sets up California War.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

LA Weekly