Gay marriage in California is back on hold after the Ninth Court of Appeals issued a late ruling Monday staying a lower court's decision.

Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, called the court's decision “disappointing,” but added that he was encouraged by the court's swift action.

“[T]ere are many twists in the road to justice, and we are encouraged by the court's setting a fast pace for the appeal, revealing that the judges understand how important a quick end to the exclusion from marriage is to gay couples, their loved ones, and all Americans who believe in equality under the law,” he said.

California Assembly Speaker John Perez expressed a similar sentiment.

“The fact that the court is expediting the hearing schedule only underscores the point Judge Walker made in his ruling: LGBT Californians have suffered, and are suffering, from having our constitutional right to equal protection and due process violated every moment Prop 8 remains in effect,” Perez, who is openly gay, said.

Proponents of Proposition 8 had asked the appeals court to stay Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling that stuck down California's gay marriage ban, Proposition 8, as the case moved into the appeals process. Walker declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional because it violates the right of gay men and lesbians to equal protection and due process.

He put his ruling on hold until Wednesday, August 18 at 5PM, at which time, without the appeals court's intervention, gay marriages would have resumed.

The appeals court will hear arguments in a San Francisco courtroom the week of December 6.

“California voters spoke clearly on Prop 8, and we're glad to see their votes will remain valid while the legal challenges work their way up through the courts,” Andy Pugno, general counsel for Protect Marriage, the sponsor of the initiative, said.

“Invalidating the people's vote based on just one judge's opinion would not have been appropriate, and would have shaken the people's confidence in our elections and the right to vote itself,” he added.

Protect Marriage intervened to defend the law after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown refused. Both officials had asked the court to allow gay marriages to resume on Wednesday.

Protect Marriage is a coalition of social conservative groups that includes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), the California Catholic Conference and various evangelical churches.

Voters approved Proposition 8 five months after the California Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2008.